The owner of a Georgia-based telecommunications startup says he is relocating his firm in protest of the state Senate’s approval last week of the First Amendment Defense Act.
Kelvin Williams said the decision to uproot his company, 373k, was in direct response to the General Assembly’s consideration of the controversial religious liberty proposal.
The bill, which must now be approved by the House of Representatives, would empower individuals and not-for-profits to refuse service if it conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Critics of the measure say it would give licenses to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and also unmarried couples and single mothers.
“That’s just something that we can’t live with,” Williams told Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB. Watch the interview after the jump.
One of the flashiest sectors of Georgia’s economy is mobilizing with new urgency after the passage last week of a controversial religious liberty proposal in the state Senate that critics maintain would enable discrimination.
The new front in the continued legal battle over same-sex marriage, the Georgia General Assembly has been weighing some eight proposals this session that would in some way grant safe harbor to opponents of the freedom to marry. In several instances, the legislation would give explicit license to deny service to gays and lesbians and even single mothers, according to legal analysts.
On Friday, the Senate approved legislation combining two proposals, the Pastor Protection Act and First Amendment Defense Act. The combined bill awaits final approval by the House of Representatives.
Now, the entertainment industry, among the state tax code’s most nurtured sectors, is warning that Georgia’s close-up will soon cut.
“This very assembly working on this bill has invested billions of taxpayer dollars growing an industry that would leave this state,” Brian Tolleson, the president of Atlanta-based entertainment firm Bark Bark, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They will boycott coming to shoot anything here.”
When the General Assembly decriminalized cannabis oil last month for the treatment of a handful of acute medical conditions, lawmakers stopped short of allowing the marijuana derivative to be locally cultivated and produced — which means those qualifying patients wishing to use the substance must risk purchasing the extract elsewhere and trafficking it through states in which it remains illegal.
Because the oil contains low levels of THC, the euphoric chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, it may be shipped from out of state. However, it remains a federal crime to transport cannabis oil across state lines, so those Georgians whose conditions require higher levels of THC than those permissible to be shipped must risk breaking the law.
But on Tuesday Gov. Nathan Deal appointed state Rep. Allen Peake—who muscled “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” named for a 5-year-old Forsyth girl with a severe form of epilepsy, through the state legislature—to chair a special state commission to explore in-state production models for the oil.
The panel will deliver recommendations to the governor on how best to foster local production while not also fostering the recreational use of marijuana.
The legislation’s champion in the upper chamber, state Sen. Renee Unterman, and Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black were also tapped for the commission.
The Republican lawmaker responsible for administering the “poison pill” that killed a controversial religious freedom proposal in Georgia was appointed to a state judicial post Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
State Rep. Mike Jacobs, whose inclusion of non-discrimination language in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a committee hearing effectively froze the measure, was named a state court judge for DeKalb County by the governor yesterday.
Cultural conservatives grumbled that Jacobs would face a primary challenge over his role in the religious liberty debate last session, but the Sandy Springs GOPer has long been eying a judicial appointment and associates say his decision to leave the legislature was not motivated by a potential challenger — on the right or left.
Already three names in are in the mix to succeed him: Republicans Catherine Bernard, who unsuccessfully challenged Jacobs in last year’s primary, and J. Max Davis, the Mayor of Brookhaven; as well as Democratic activist Matthew Weiss.
A lawyer representing adult entertainment venues says his clients will sue Georgia over the state’s new anti-trafficking law, which provides for a victims fund that is financed in part through a new tax on the red light establishments.
Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed the Safe Harbor Law, which sets strict penalties for those convicted of human trafficking and creates a new state fund to cover healthcare, housing, and counseling bills for victims of the sex trade.
The cost of the new fund will be covered by charging pimps a $2,500 fine and fixing an annual $5,000 operating fee on strip clubs, though the question of whether the clubs will pay into the fund will be decided next year by voters.
Atlanta attorney Alan Begner, whose practice represents nearly two-thirds of strip clubs in the capital city, said he could “certainly guarantee the law will be challenged,” but couldn’t specify the number of petitioners who’d bring suit. At issue, he said, is the club owners’ protected speech.
“Nude dancing is protected under the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions, and speech cannot be taxed,” he told Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE Wednesday.
Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday green lighted the commercial sale and regulation of fireworks in Georgia.
The new law, which cleared the General Assembly only hours before the legislative session expired, will take affect July 1 — in time for Independence Day celebrations across the state.
All of Georgia’s neighbors already allow for the sale of fireworks, though previous attempts to legalize their sale locally bombed amid opposition from health groups and public safety officials.
Deal, on Tuesday, said he believed the debate this year was less incendiary because of safety carveouts included in the bill. The new law requires those businesses or nonprofits selling fireworks to be licensed by the state and pay a $5,000 fee, which will be used for public safety purposes.
“People in our state are crossing state lines and buying fireworks,” Deal said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have so many neighbors around us that already authorize the sale of fireworks, I think this just made sense. And I think we have taken every precaution we can to try to eliminate any injuries associated with it.”
The chairman of the Georgia House Transportation Committee plans to resign his seat in the state legislature, according to two well-placed Republicans.
State Rep. Jay Roberts, who surprised some capitol watchers last week when he forwent a bid for majority leader, will leave the seat he’s held for the last thirteen years in the coming weeks, sources say. The expectation is that he will remain in the legislature at least until the May 11 caucus meeting, in which GOP lawmakers will elect a new majority leader.
The Republican did not respond to multiple inquiries Monday by Tipsheet, but two separate sources in the legislature confirmed his plans. “It’s the worst-kept secret in the capitol,” quipped one GOPer with knowledge of Roberts’ plans.
Capitol sources say Roberts has been lobbying Governor Nathan Deal to be appointed as planning director at the state Department of Transportation. The position has remained vacant since January, when the former director was named commissioner. A spokesman for Deal did not respond when asked if the governor had made any final determinations for the position.
Both measures ultimately passed the legislature in the final days of session, but it was Roberts’ roads framework, in which the legislature agreed to set aside $900 million annually for transportation improvement projects, that caused the most sparks.
To finance the new roads tab, House and Senate negotiators agreed to create a new statewide hotel lodging tax and to raise the motor fuels sales tax. That plan didn’t sit well with the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform, which actively opposed the proposal and argued the bill would raise gasoline prices in Georgia to the ninth-highest in the nation.
Roberts, with some assistance from Gov. Deal, ultimately muscled the plan through both chambers on the second-to-last day of the legislative calendar.
“To put this together, a lot of people worked really hard,” Roberts, sounding like a proud father, said earlier this month after the bill’s passage. “I think now we have a sense of accomplishment as a whole that we can move the state forward with transportation and have a reliable, sustainable source of funding.”
His departure would make the second senior Republican in as many weeks to signal intent to leave the General Assembly. Last week Majority Leader Larry O’Neal said he would resign his middle Georgia seat in exchange for a permanent judgeship on Georgia’s Tax Tribunal.