By Patrick Hickey
As the debate over the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act rages on in House sub-committee meetings, the first tangible consequences of passing such a piece of legislation are being seen in Indiana. Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention, has threatened to move out of the state if it signs its version of the RFRA. The convention draws in over 50,000 fans annually and according to CEO Adrian Swartout brings in more than $50 million to the city each year. Swartout, in a letter to Indiana Governor Mike Pence, claimed that, “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”
Indiana’s SB 101, which like Georgia’s proposed bill is modeled after the federal “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, has already passed through the House and Senate and awaits Governor Pence’s signature. The Republican Governor has already indicated his intent to sign the bill into law, possibly as early as this week.
Last year in Arizona, the NFL spoke out against a similar RFRA type bill and many local business leaders harbored serious concerns that the league would pull Super Bowl XLIX out of the state should the bill pass. Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, stating that “I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination.”
Meanwhile in Georgia, at Tuesday’s House Judiciary Special Sub-Committee meeting, a representative from the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association claimed that already two event organizers for conventions in Atlanta have threatened to move out of the city if SB 129 is passed. Could more conventions or events, such as the annual Dragon Con, (and its 57,000+ annual visitors) follow suit? The business community has been much quieter in its opposition to the bill than it was in 2014, but could the threat of visitors and their wallets leaving the city prompt them to jump back in as the session nears its end?
Former House Majority Whip and Congressional candidate Ed Lindsey may have a solution in the form of his alternative version of SB 129, which he introduced to the sub-committee Tuesday. In it he provides two exceptions which would guard against the feared discrimination against the LGBT community as well as make sure the law can not be twisted in such a way as to allow for child or spousal abuse, another fear brought up by critics.