- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Six Georgia lawmakers unveiled and then swiftly withdrew a proposal setting high stakes for businesses now mobilizing against separate legislation intended to protect same-sex marriage opponents.

Opponents fear that bill would excuse discrimination, especially against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. The bill, which already passed earlier this session, would prevent government burden of religious belief or penalty against faith-based organizations, including refusal to serve or hire someone.

It also would protect clergy who won’t perform gay marriages and people who won’t attend a wedding.

Opponents of the recently passed bill, including some of Georgia’s top companies, the NFL and prominent Hollywood figures, have urged Gov. Nathan Deal to veto it.

The new proposal emerged late Thursday on the final day of the legislative session. It would have allowed employees or consumers to file suit against a company if they feel it has violated a nondiscrimination employment policy or a less formal “pledge.”

When the state House and Senate can’t agree on a final bill, three members of each chamber are assigned to hash out their differences. A committee was appointed to compromise versions of a bill on labor practices.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican, is one of the Republican lawmakers assigned to negotiate a bill on labor practices. He says the revisions guarantee companies keep their promises on nondiscrimination.

“If you have a business that is essentially trying to get the benefit of saying ‘Look at how inclusive and how tolerant our business is,’ but is not following that policy in practice, we felt like there should be some teeth to enforce those policies,” McKoon said.

But several hours later, the proposal was withdrawn and the original bill on labor practices restored.

Deal told reporters Thursday night that he has a difficult decision ahead on the bill concerning religious belief and same-sex marriage. But he gave no hint of where he’s leaning. He also declined comment on the new proposal aimed at businesses.

A Republican in his final term, Deal has until May 3 to act.

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