April 3, 2013

2013 Legislative Review: “Pro-life Bills BLOCKED in the House”

Well, here we go again!

The goodwill shown by House Speaker David Ralston and the Republican House Leadership last year with the passage of the Fetal Pain Bill (HB 954) and the Assisted Suicide Ban Bill (HB 1114) appears to have evaporated! Three key pro-life measures were stopped in their tracks by the Speaker.  

That clearly does not speak well for the House Leadership which claims to be “pro-life.” Only two pro-life bills has have been passed in the last four years.  Since 2010, while under Speaker Ralston’s leadership, at least eight pro-life measures (SB 529 ‘10, HB 1155 ‘10, SB 169 ’10, SB 210 ‘11, SB 438 ’12, HB 481’13, HR 826 ‘13, HR 246 ‘13 Amended) have been blocked or simply ignored.  In 2010 during the Speaker’s first year he not only held up SB 529 “The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act” but he sought to amend it during the last three days of the legislative session with his own version of the bill that would have had added things like rape and incest exceptions. Pro-abortion lobbyists were also identified working on the bill in the Speakers office with his attorney Bill Riley on the 40th day.

 In addition to these things, the House Leadership conjured up a fake fetal pain bill (HB 89) in 2011 that GRTL had to oppose because it had flawed language. Also, GRTL had to oppose (SB 177 sub) that was for the purpose of “tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments,” received through President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, to be used for abortions. The only problem was it dealt with provisions already in federal law. http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2011/04/14/whats-the-difference-between-an-anti-abortion-bill-and-a-sugar-pill-not-much/

These actions are simply unacceptable in a state as pro-life as Georgia!  All nine of our state constitutional officers—who support a Personhood Amendment to the state constitution—won in the last election.  We’re also a state where Republicans by a 2-1 margin voted in support of a Personhood Amendment to the state constitution in last year’s primary.

The following is a brief summary of the bills that did not pass this year.

The Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act (HB 481)

What most citizens may not realize it that a “Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act” (SB 169) was passed in the Senate in 2009. It went over to the House and was blocked by then Speaker of the House, Glenn Richardson and Science and Technology Chairman Amos Amerson! When Speaker Ralston took over, he along with Chairman Amerson chose not to move the bill again. thus securing its fate. The blocking of pro-life legislation in House has been a common practice for the past six years!

HB 481 was assigned by the speaker to the Judiciary Committee, Chaired by Rep. Wendell Willard, instead of the Science and Technology, chaired by pro-life legislator Rep. Ed Setzler. We were very thankful, though, for the opportunity to at least have a hearing in the Judiciary. However, because of the stiff resistance of UGA, Georgia Tech and the Georgia biotech industry, the bill received no further action.

 In an attempt to keep the bill moving, a Judiciary Committee member, in conversation after the hearing, recommended that Rep. Jay Neal, the author of the bill, submit another bill asking Speaker Ralston to appoint a study committee to address the concerns of the university system and the biotech industry.

Rep. Neal submitted a bill to the House, “The House Human Embryonic Research Study Committee” (HR 826) . Speaker Ralston once again, instead of sending the bill to the Science and Technology Committee, sent it to the Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper! Rep. Cooper has shown considerable opposition to pro-life bills in the past.

As the 40th day arrived, Rep. Cooper refused to grant the bill a hearing, which would have allowed it to make it on the floor before the deadline. She, in effect, killed an opportunity for the pro-life community to sit down and work with the biotech community to come up with ethical guidelines for biotech research in Georgia! However, the primary reason the study committee proposal died is because Speaker Ralston did not push for its passage.

State Employee Abortion Insurance Coverage Ban

In an attempt to pass a ban on taxpayer funds being used for state employee abortion insurance coverage, Sen. Mike Crane amended HB 246 (dealing with employee benefits at the Georgia World Congress Center) to include the measure that he had first introduced as a Senate bill last year (SB 438).

Senator Crane introduced SB 164, a bill that would ban taxpayer funded abortion coverage for all state employees. At present, state employees receive abortion coverage in their insurance package.  Approximately 75% of that plan is paid for with taxpayers funds.

HB 246 was successfully amended with SB 164 in the Senate along a party line vote. Once it arrived in the House, Speaker Ralston said the bill had not been properly vetted through the committee process. However, the same bill had been vetted and passed out of committee and approved by the Senate last year. That bill was stopped in the House and died!

Speaker Ralston has used this line of reasoning before in dealing with pro-life legislation. In an interview with the AJC in 2011 Speaker Ralston said the same type of thing. The speaker said that SB 210 had not been vetted properly, and that he would not have time to have a hearing for it. He failed to mention the fact that SB 210 IS the Private Right of Action part of SB 529 that was vetted to “death” - all the way to the 40th day!!

Back to this year's bill. The amendment to HB 246 was not complicated. It basically said, “No taxpayer funded abortion coverage for state employees!” It did not prohibit state employees from paying for such services themselves.

Gov. Nathan Deal immediately came out in favor of the proposal. He stated in an interview with AJC: “Within the context of the state employees’ health benefit plan, this should be an auxiliary benefit that’s paid for separately. That’s the effort that was undertaken in the Senate yesterday, and I support that.”

It all came down to one man, Speaker Ralston, who refused to grant the bill an up or down vote.

Thankfully, Gov. Deal offered to seek an executive solution to the problem. The governor and his staff agreed with GRTL to look at rules and regulations through executive order and the Department of Community Health. The pro-life community and the citizens of our state can be grateful to have a Governor who recognizes that the vast majority of Georgians do not want to subsidize abortions!

Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-out Act (SB 98)

The same issue of taxpayer-funded abortions was addressed by Senator Judson Hill.  SB 98 would prohibit federal and state taxpayer dollars being used to pay for abortion services. It simply says that “No abortion coverage shall be provided by a qualified health plan offered through a state or federal law or regulation in the state of Georgia.”

Unfortunately, the bill failed to get a hearing in the Senate Insurance Committee Chaired by Sen. Tim Golden.

This bill is still alive, however, and can have a hearing and be voted on next year.

The Personhood Amendment (SR 420)

Senator Barry Loudermilk filed a new Personhood Amendment to the Georgia State Constitution. SR 420 states: “This state shall recognize the paramount right to life of all human beings as persons at any stage of development."

The Personhood Amendment is important to our state because it addresses all of the human rights issues of the 21st century. The amendment focuses on the basic rights of the most vulnerable: the preborn, the elderly, the infirm and the physically challenged.  

This resolution is still alive and available for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. It’s important that personhood stay at the forefront of our efforts.  It’s the most comprehensive solution to protect the sanctity of human life on our state!

Speaking Opportunity! 

Please let me know of any opportunities you are aware of where I might come and give a “Pro-life Update” to your group, church, or civic organization. You can contact me at mikegriffin@grtl.org or my cell phone 706-436-2646. Thanks for the opportunity to have served you for another legislative session at the Georgia General Assembly!