Oconee County’s two representatives in the Georgia General Assembly cast their votes late Thursday night with the House majority in favor of a bill that prohibits most abortions after a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb and with the minority against a hate crimes bill.
House Bill 481, officially called the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, passed narrowly at 10:45 p.m. on Thursday with 93 representatives, almost all Republicans, voting in favor, and 73 voting against.
House Bill 426, which would amend existing Georgia Code to provide criteria for imposition of punishment for defendants who select their victims based upon certain biases or prejudices, also passed narrowly with 96 voting in favor and 64 voting against.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Chuck Efstration, from Dacula, enjoyed bipartisan support. The vote on that bill was at 8:59 p.m.
Gaines’s 117th House District and Wiedower’s 119th House District are split across county lines, with Clarke County dominant in both districts based on voter registration.
Spencer Frye, a Democrat, represents the 118th House District, which is entirely in Clarke County.
Frye voted with the minority against the anti-abortion LIFE Act and with the majority in favor of the hate crimes bill.
Gaines And Wiedower On HB 481
I asked Gaines and Wiedower separately on Sunday if they would like to comment on their votes on House Bill 481 and House Bill 426.
Wiedower wrote back and asked if I could wait until today for a response so he could spend Sunday with his family. I agreed.
Wiedower provided me the joint response, copied to Gaines, this afternoon.
“We are pro-life and ran as pro-life candidates,” the pair wrote. “Gov. (Brian) Kemp has made this issue a top priority, and we agree with him that we must promote the sanctity of human life.
“Leading up (to) the vote, we received hundreds of messages from constituents who had varying opinions from all sides of the political spectrum.
“We respect the viewpoints of all of the people in our districts and ultimately voted for this measure because we are and always have been pro-life,” the two wrote.
“In the Health & Human Services Committee, exceptions for rape and incest were added to the bill (life of the mother was already included). The Committee also voted to include an exception if the fetus is not viable upon birth. These changes are reflected in the current bill.”
Gaines And Wiedower On HB 426
“We gave great consideration to the hate crimes bill that came before the House,” Wiedower and Gaines wrote. “We share the desire of the bill's supporters to take a strong stand against crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.
“We voted against the bill in its current form because of two major concerns,” the two wrote. “1. the sentencing components; and 2. the effectiveness of the bill. We believe that all violent crime is hate crime.”
Both bills passed on crossover day and now move to the Senate.
“We look forward to working with our Senate colleagues and the Kemp administration on both pieces of legislation and, as with every bill, remain open to changes through the process,” Wiedower and Gaines wrote.
Frye On HB 481 And HB 426
I also wrote to Frye on Sunday and asked him if he wished to comment on the two bills.
“Forcing women to carry an unviable fetus to term and creating a criminal offense for a miscarriage is some of the worst policy I have ever seen proposed,” Frye wrote me on Sunday regarding House Bill 481.
“Georgians want us to trust women to make their own healthcare decisions within the guidelines of current federal law and not play politics with women’s bodies and women’s rights,” Frye continued.
Frye wrote me his comments on House Bill 426 today.
“While we know that all men and women are created equal,” he wrote, “we also know that not everyone is treated that way.
“This legislation offers extra protection to those marginalized citizens and makes a statement that the state will not tolerate discrimination of any sort,” he added.
House Bill 481
House Bill 481 states “that all natural persons at any stage of development, including an unborn child at any stage of development who is carried in the womb, shall be included in state population based determinations,” giving fetuses with a heart beat the full legal status of human beings.
The bill would require “physicians performing abortions to determine the existence of a human heartbeat before performing an abortion.
The law states that “No abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the probable gestational age of the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat.”
Exceptions are made if the “the pregnancy is diagnosed as medically futile,” when the abortion is necessary to avert the death or serious risk of the pregnant woman, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the unborn child’s life is at risk.
A heartbeat is usually detected in a woman’s sixth week of pregnancy. At present, abortions are allowed in Georgia up to 20 weeks after conception.
House Bill 481, if it passes the Senate and becomes law, is likely to be challenged in the courts.
Gov. Kemp has said he supports the bill.
House Bill 426
House Bill 426 sets sentencing requirements in the case of defendants in what is determined to be a hate crime.
A hate crime is when “the defendant intentionally selected any victim or group of victims or any property as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability of such victim or group of victims.”
If the offense is a misdemeanor, the sentence should be imprisonment for a period of not less than three nor more than 12 months, and a fine is not to exceed $5,000.
If the offense is a misdemeanor of a “high and aggravated nature,” the sentence is imprisonment for a period of not less than six nor more than 12 months, and a fine not to exceed $5,000.
If the offense is a felony, the judge should impose a sentence of imprisonment for a period of not less than two years.