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Religious freedom bill moves to the governor
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly is down to the last few days and I believe that much has been accomplished that will serve our state well. The budget is still in committee and is being carefully analyzed before the vote, with every member of the legislature committed to passing a financial plan for our state that is fiscally responsible.

Several bills regarding a wide variety of issues were passed last week that will now go before Governor Deal for his signature.

A bill that will allow retired law enforcement officers to keep his or her weapon and badge was approved. The caveat of SB 263 is that the retirement must be the result of a disability. This is good legislation that honors the fine men and women who have put their lives on the line to keep our streets homes, and businesses secure. It passed 123-46.

SB 336 is related to the retirement plans of the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System and limits what can be paid toward retirement plans, allowing no more than 50 percent of one’s salary. The state of California also dealt with this issue when there was a concern that a retiree of a part-time job could potentially earn more during retirement than during the duration of their employment. The bill passed overwhelmingly and is sound legislation that will protect municipalities from being drained of their financial resources.

Our nation is a wonderful blend of people from all walks of life, including hard-working, industrious, talented, and educated men and women who serve in their communities. SB 85 is a bill that allows only U.S. citizens, a legal resident, or an immediate family member of an active duty member of the armed forces to be appointed to a state board, council, or commission. These boards often establish public policy, levy taxes, and impose fees and it is only right that each member of such an authoritative council should fulfill these requirements.

The House also accepted the Senate’s substitute version of HB 757, the Religious Freedom Bill, which allows ministers to deny any religious ceremony that is against their sincerely held religious beliefs. This bill passed overwhelmingly, yet the governor is under pressure from many groups to veto the bill.

As a nation, religious freedom is part of our very fabric and is an important right that should not be compromised. It is only fair and just that our pastors and ministers have the same right to decline any ceremony that is the antithesis to their deeply held religious principles. The governor has said that he will sign the bill, despite the pressure from opposing viewpoints, and I am encouraged that he is standing strong in the face of such pressure.

A resolution also passed which would allow the Coastal Regional Commission to oversee the implementation of the Coastal Georgia Greenway and create a comprehensive plan to implement the trail and to file a report regarding its progress. SR 730 also encourages the General Assembly to make annual appropriations over the next 10 years to support the completion of the Greenway.

As always, your concerns, questions, and input are very important to me and invaluable as I continue to strive to represent you to the best of my ability throughout the remainder of the session. Please feel free to contact me at (404) 657-1803 or bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to represent you!