In the 2019 Georgia legislative session, we saw the Georgia Republican party trample on the rights of women to protect and expand their own political power. Sexual harassment rules were weakened to protect male politicians, women Senators were denied access to important committees and HB 481 was passed to overturn Roe v Wade.
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It’s January 2019 in Georgia and you’re the Republican party. Rural hospitals are closing throughout the state and infant mortality is rising despite a strong economy buoyed in part by the film industry. They’ve threatened to boycott the agenda of your party’s radicals in the past, but at the same time, these radical elements (with the help of some electoral shenanigans) are what carried your candidate for Governor, Brian Kemp, to victory in the last election.
Do you: A – pivot to the center to gain support from moderates and business interests? Or B – double down on misogyny, hate and xenophobia to appease your radical base?
The male-dominated Georgia Republican party lost no time in trampling the rights of women to protect their own political power. The state senate weakened their rules regarding internal investigation of sexual harassment. Investigations will now be limited to claims of harassment happening two years ago at the latest; and those running for office can’t be investigated at all.
Renee Unterman was the only Republican to vote against the rule change.
I cannot believe what is happening in this body. In the last couple of weeks, I have had sexual harassment against me, and it’s not a good feeling. We need these rules and regulations, we desperately need them.
The next day, she was pulled from her leadership position on the Health and Human Services committee.
And now this woman, this female, has been assigned as the chair of the Science and Technology committee. Well, I’m going from 121 bills, and that committee in two years had 3 bills and 4 study committees. I guess I don’t have the correct skillset anymore, I don’t know what happened.
15 of the 56 Georgia Senators are women, and as of this year, 7 of them were packed together into one committee in particular, the Special Judiciary Committee, with Democrat Jen Jordan as Committee Chair.
But I have to say that after hearing everybody’s comment, it has become apparent that it was not intended to be an honor. So really, this is not about being a Democrat or a Republican, it’s about the fact that I represent 200,000 people in the state just like each and every one of you. And I bring a skillset that can help this body move forward. If all you’re going to do is put me in a committee and not give me any legislation to actually look at, shame on you!
This body has actually gone through the trouble of eliminating two positions on the Judiciary committee to keep these talented women off. Both the Senators from the 6th and 48th, however, have been assigned to the Special Judiciary committee, a committee so poorly regarded by the majority caucus that not a single one of their members has any desire to be on it. A committee that by all evidence exists solely to warehouse Democrats and women, since it is 90% female.
Ladies of the Senate: we are not the pitcher, we’re not the 1st baseman, we’re not the 2nd baseman, we’re not the 3rd baseman. We’re not even in the outfield! As a matter of fact, we’re not even in the ballpark. We’re outside! We’re outside, looking over a fence, and we’re climbing that fence, and we’re trying to look into the ballfield to see who’s playing and gosh knows to see what the score is.
Senator Unterman was given Chair of the Science and Technology committee as something of a consolation prize for losing the Chair of Health and Human Services. Did she have any important legislation go through her committee? Oh… oh wow…
The essence of the bill is this: abortion is currently legal through 20 weeks gestation. This bill would dial that back to 6 weeks.
If you haven’t heard, HB 481 bans abortion after 6 weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This is before most women even know they’re pregnant, so it’s essentially an outright ban on abortion in defiance of Roe v Wade. But, there’s more. It also includes embryos “at any stage of development” in the state’s population counts. That means those who drafted this bill must know that it’s unconstitutional, and they crafted it specifically to spark a debate in the Supreme Court on fetal personhood. According to the New Yok Times editorial board, not only would a decision favoring fetal personhood ban abortion, but “If a fetus is granted equal rights, women who become pregnant may find their most personal decisions coming under state control.“ For example, could a pregnant woman smoking cigarettes be prosecuted? Many common birth control methods could be criminalized if every fertilized egg is treated as a full person.
At this time, the chair would like to recognize the Senator from the 45th to speak to House Bill 481.
After being sexually harassed and pulled from the important Health and Human Services Committee, Senator Unterman was given the task of introducing HB 481 in the Senate.
We will not throw away these children who are not perfect, because all children are perfect in the eyes of God.
The bill was under constant protest by women dressed as handmaids from the Handmaid’s Tale.
It never occurred to me that I would need to fight for rights over my own body in 2019. No one should have to do that.
Alyssa Milano and the film industry are threatening to boycott Georgia if the bill is signed into law, a move which could have serious economic repercussions.
We cannot, in good conscience, continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia if HB 481 becomes the law.
Even that didn’t deter Georgia lawmakers, and the bill eventually passed both houses under heavy police presence.
You’re in violation of 1611 34.1. You will be incarcerated if you do not disperse immediately.
We’re not going to be bullied! No! Nobody’s getting arrested and nobody’s leaving. This is the people’s house!
With Brian Kemp as Governor, the “heartbeat bill” is sure to become law. The ACLU has pledged a lawsuit when that happens, so this is an ongoing story that may have implications for women around the country.
There’s lots more that happened during the 2019 legislative session. If you’d like to see a fancy infographic summary of how our local delegation voted, you can check out my website at athenspoliticsnerd.com. I can’t get to everything in this short video, but I would like to close by recognizing the truly horrible voting record of people like Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower. They distinguished themselves this session by consistently being on the radical fringe even by Republican standards.
Of course, they voted for the abortion ban and the insecure voting machines bill. Beyond that, they voted against HB 426, a bi-partisan hate crimes bill, that would have finally given LGBTQ Georgians some civil rights protections. Georgia is one of only five states right now that allows discrimination in public accommodations. HB 426 passed the House, so that means most of their colleagues voted YES on it. Houston Gaines was criticized last year for having open homophobe Joan Rhoden on his campaign staff,
I’m Houston Gaines running for State House, to put words into action.
So really, I can’t say I’m surprised he voted no on this.
Gaines and Wiedower also co-sponsored a bill that would have rolled back some of Governor Deal’s successful bail reform efforts, and this idea was so unpopular with their fellow Republicans that it never even came up for a vote. To top it off, they also both voted yes on a bill designed to protect confederate monuments by giving strict penalties for damaging monuments and making their removal more difficult. Because of course they did.
If you’re a Democrat in Athens or elsewhere, who supported Houston Gaines or even fundraised for him, I hope you take a moment to seriously reflect on your actions.
Houston Gaines is not a moderate. He’s one of the most regressive Republicans in the state legislature and he does not deserve the support of a single Democrat in 2020.
Alright. Whew! Like share and subscribe everybody!
Now for an update: Towards the very end of the session, the Senate changed their sexual harassment investigation policy mostly back to where it was, although investigations are barred for claims of harassment over four years ago. I still find it shameful that our local Senator Bill Cowsert was a strong vocal supporter of the original changes.
Clips from the following videos were used: