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Religious liberty bill gets lukewarm reception at GA Capitol

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal says he was surprised by a new religious freedom bill introduced in the state Senate Tuesday. The bill mirrors a federal bill that Deal supported in Congress some 25 years ago. 

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal says he was surprised by a new religious freedom bill introduced in the state Senate Tuesday. The bill mirrors a federal bill that Deal supported in Congress some 25 years ago.

Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill last year. This bill is different from that bill. The question is whether it’s different enough – and whether this legislature has the appetite to address this issue again for a fourth straight year.

READ | Gov. Deal's 'Religious Freedom Bill' veto

VIDEO | Gov. Deal vetoes Religious Freedom Bill

FULL TRANSCRIPT | Gov. Deal's speech on 'Religious Freedom' Bill veto

"I think I pretty well laid out my position in my veto message but I still look forward to talking with the author" of the bill, Deal said Wednesday.

He vetoed last year’s religious liberty bill after Georgia’s LGBT community and its business community warned that the bill would encourage discrimination. The bill sponsor thinks otherwise.

"Let's ask this question," said Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone). "Texas has (a religious freedom law) and they have the Super Bowl. All the surrounding states, Florida has (a religious freedom law). They’re doing fairly well."

Senator Harbin says his bill merely duplicates a federal law approved by Democrats in Congress in 1993 – and signed into law by President Clinton. Deal was among those in Congress who voted it in. Asked if that's a valid argument for his support for the new measure, Deal told 11Alive News: "It is an argument obviously. But there are a lot of things that have happened since 1993 when I voted on that federal legislation."

That includes the legalization of gay marriage – which coincided with the rise of religious freedom bills across the country.

"Hopefully the legislative process will stop the bill from moving forward," said Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville), the first openly gay man elected to the legislature. "I think there is a strong coalition that is already prepared to defeat this bill so that it doesn’t go forward."

Wednesday, backers of the bill tried to "engross" the measure in the state Senate, which would have eliminated the chance to amend the bill. They lost that vote. Harbin says that is not predictive of its fate in the legislature this year.

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