Written by Don Byrd

[UPDATE 2/26: The Georgia Senate passed the bill on a 35-19 vote.]

A legislative effort to modernize Georgia’s adoption laws failed last year when the state senate added language to allow child placement agencies to refuse to provide services that they object to on religious grounds, even if such refusal violates state nondiscrimination laws, and even if the agency receives government funds. Governor Nathan Deal vowed to veto the bill because of that amendment, and the legislative session ended without action on the measure.

Now, Georgia lawmakers are trying to enact a religious exemption bill for adoption agencies again, this time as stand-alone legislation. Senate Bill 375, the “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act,” asserts that “child-placing agencies have the right to provide services in accordance with the agencies’ sincerely held religious beliefs.” It allows agencies under contract with the state to “decline to accept a referral for foster care or adoption services… based on the child-placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” provided the agency comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act. Agencies not under contract “may decline to  perform any service that conflicts with the child-placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and the department shall not cause any adverse action against such child-placing agency for declining to perform such service.”

AJC’s Political Insider blog reports that the bill advanced through committee on a 5-2 vote earlier today. The bill’s sponsor explains his rationale:

“States have failed our faith-based agencies agencies. These are agencies that have been provided services to children – some of them, through their affiliation with churches, for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the primary author of the measure. Ligon said other states had forced these agencies to “choose between violating the tenets of their faith or going out of business.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee before a vote on the floor, which must occur by February 28, per Political Insider.