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Georgia House panel backs Pastor Protection bill
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Short calendar for lawmakers

The Georgia General Assembly is looking to recess early this year with elections to the House and Senate on the calendar.

Candidate qualifying is March 4-7 and the campaign trail leads to party primaries in May.

The 40-day session could end as soon as March 24. 

New rules coming for craft beer sales

The state Department of Revenue is preparing rule changes to allow breweries more leeway in sales to customers and advertising on social media.

The state’s three-tier system regulates how alcohol passes from manufacturers to wholesalers and distributors to retailers.

Beer brewers will now be allowed to charge varied tour prices and can sell food on site, as well as up to 72 ounces of alcohol for off-site consumption.

Craft breweries have been pushing for direct sales to consumers, but the deal will put off a new battle until next year.

Times staff reports  

A Georgia House panel has approved a bill stating that religious officials don’t have to perform same-sex marriages, a protection some believe is already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The bill now goes to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration. The measure known as the “Pastor Protection Act” is among at least eight bills seeking religious exemptions for same-sex marriage objectors.

But it’s the only bill backed by Speaker David Ralston, the House’s top Republican.

Supporters of the bill said the Supreme Court’s decision last year legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide prompted the push for its passage.

“The Bible states a marriage is between a man and a woman,” state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said.

He added that protections are “absolutely” needed if pastors feel pressure to act against their own belief.

The measure approved by a subcommittee Thursday also would allow religious organizations to prevent its property from being used for purposes “objectionable” to their beliefs.

Gay-rights supporters question that portion of the bill, arguing it could allow churches to limit access to housing, food pantries or other services but still accept taxpayer money through faith-based nonprofits.

Republican state lawmakers jumped into a national debate on the merits of religious freedom legislation last year before backing off a proposal to forbid government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs.

About 20 states have similar laws on the books modeled on a federal statute of the same name signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993.

But opponents of the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, including the chambers of commerce and leading tourism industry officials, believed it would hurt the state’s economy by giving the perception that businesses could legally discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Critics said the law could be used as legal cover for business owners to deny services based on a customer’s sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, another bill lawmakers are considering this year would ban businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and convenience stores from turning away customers based on their race, religion or national origin.

It is modeled on a federal civil rights law, which also includes no protections for sexual orientation.

Georgia is one of five states with no formal prohibition of discrimination in public places.

Potential victims would be allowed to file complaints with Commission of Equal Opportunity and could be awarded compensatory damages after an investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.