ROSWELL, Ga. — Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp told the Roswell Rotary Club Nov. 30 that if he is elected governor, he would sign a “religious freedom and restoration bill” similar to the ones Gov. Nathan Deal has twice vetoed if came before him.
Proponents of the bill say it grants people of conscience who disapprove of gay marriage, contraception and other issues they believe violate their religious beliefs the right to tailor their business practices accordingly.
Kemp said he would support a bill that guaranteed Georgians religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
“I don’t know what other provisions that may have been in [the bills Deal vetoed]. But I would support a bill that is in line with federal law,” Kemp said. “It would be simply codifying what is already in the Constitution.”
Kemp is not the only GOP candidate likely to endorse a religious freedom and restoration act. In August the Georgia GOP officially endorsed such a bill but decided not to require its candidates to do so.
But the devil of such a bill is in the details and could have far-reaching economic consequences.
Opponents of the bill say it is discriminatory to gay and transgender citizens. Certainly that is the way corporate America has interpreted such legislation.
Corporations and organizations have expressed their opposition to such controversial legislation, and in states where it has passed, many have withdrawn from participatory agreements or withdrawn interest in economic development. That is likely a major factor in Deal’s two vetoes of what was nominally the same bill.
In vetoing the first religious bill, Deal said he thought it was discriminatory.
“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way,” Deal said in 2015.
Georgia’s film, television and recording production industries have expressed the most sensitivity to the legislation.
Georgia is now the No. 1 filming location in the world, according to FilmL.A. And the media industry has had a giant impact on the state’s economy already.
Film and television productions generated $9.5 billion in economic impact in fiscal 2017 with $2.7 billion in direct spending.
“Georgia’s growth in the film industry — from $67.7 million in direct spending in FY 2007 to $2.7 billion in FY 2017 — is unprecedented, not only in production spend, but also in the amount of investment that has been made in infrastructure,” Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, said in a statement.
“The unwavering commitment to this industry by Gov. Deal and the Georgia Legislature has ensured Georgia’s place as a top destination for film and television,” Thomas said.
While in the early years of the Atlanta film industries, companies came to shoot in the state’s many diverse locations.
More recently, sound stage complexes such Pinewood Atlanta Studios, EUE/Screen Gems Studios, Tyler Perry Studios and Blackhall Studios have made it possible for all of the ancillary post-production facets of filmmaking to take place in Georgia also.
That has brought more than 25,000 year-round jobs. That could change if the filmmakers decide – as they have in the past – to go elsewhere because of the perceived discrimination.
Georgia got a big uptick from Louisiana – which had been No. 2 behind Hollywood and ahead of Georgia in film production – after that state passed its religious freedom bill. Film producers voted with their feet and began coming to Georgia.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development declined to speculate on any legislation that may be pending before the Georgia General Assembly.
Tourism is a statewide business generating a staggering $61.1 billion annually with fully half of that stemming from Atlanta’s hospitality and convention business.
A former Georgia Economic Development staffer John Boothby offered one generalization. He said the competition for new development is always keen. Georgia, like other states, has much to offer to companies wishing to relocate or expand.
“At some point their top choices become hard to separate. So the decision-making becomes a process of elimination,” Boothby said.
“They look for any negatives that will help decision makers in the winnowing process. And your competitors will make sure they know just what those negatives are.”
Religious conservatives may make a third try at the legislation after Deal leaves office. It already has passed the House and Senate twice. So the religious liberty legislation could well be one of the key issues come next November.
If it does become law and previous precedents fall into place, Georgia could see premier events, such as Super Bowl LIII, the 2018 College Football Championship and the 2020 College Basketball Final Four, leave for less controversial venues as well – costing Atlanta and the state millions of dollars in revenue and an incalculable amount of prestige nationally and internationally.