ATLANTA -- A Georgia lawmaker is withdrawing a bill that would have restricted women from wearing face veils. It's been nicknamed the "burqa bill".
State Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) filed a bill on Tuesday that prohibit women from wearing a burqa when taking a driver's license photo.
The bill would have also amended a law already in place that makes it a misdemeanor to wear any device that conceals identity in public, or even on private property without written consent. The actual wording of the old bill only includes the pronoun "he"; Spencer's bill would cover both "he" and "she" pronouns.
Members of the Muslim community fought back against the bill, saying that it would target Muslim women and make it illegal for them to wear a burqa.
Less than 48 hours after filing the bill, Spencer backtracked.
On Thursday afternoon, 11Alive obtained a statement from Spencer saying:
After further consideration, I have decided to not pursue HB 3 in the upcoming 2017 legislative session due to the visceral reaction it has created.
“While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created. My objective was to address radical elements that could pose a threat to public safety. However, further consideration dictates that other solutions will need to be considered. In conclusion, anti-masking statutes have been upheld as constitutional (State v Miller, 1990), and HB 3 would withstand legal scrutiny, but not political scrutiny.”
CAIR Georgia president Edward Ahmed Mitchell said he was glad to hear that the bill was being withdrawn. He told 11Alive's Blayne Alexander, "We reached out to Rep. Spencer earlier today to meet with him. Our hope was that he would amend or withdraw the bill. We are happy to hear that he has decided to withdraw. We hope he will still take the time to meet with his Georgia Muslim neighbors to build bridges going forward. So we thank him for withdrawing the bill, but we hope to still meet with him."
In an earlier statement, Spencer had said the law, HB3, was intended to add "clarity" to the current law, and was meant to deal with driver's license IDs and driving on public roads.
"Specifically, the intent of the proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor for individuals to wear masks or other facial concealment while driving and operating a vehicle on Georgia roadways," Spencer said in the earlier statement.
According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, typically nothing is allowed to be on or in the face of the driver will having their photo taken for their license or ID. However, exceptions are made for both religious and cultural garb like burqas, hijabs, etc. Exceptions include:
- A person wearing a traditional holiday costume on the occasion of the holiday;
- A person lawfully engaged in trade and employment or in a sporting activity where a mask is worn for the purpose of ensuring the physical safety of the wearer, or because of the nature of the occupation, trade, or profession, or sporting activity;
- A person using a mask in a theatrical production including use in Mardi gras celebrations and masquerade balls; or
- A person wearing a gas mask prescribed in emergency management drills and exercises or emergencies.
First Coast News contributed to this story