Georgia, RFRA, and the PPACA

March 4, 2014 § Leave a Comment

A note: Yesterday was Crossover Day, i.e., the last day in Georgia’s legislative session that a bill could reasonably be supposed to have a chance of becoming law assuming it was approved by at least one of the state legislature’s chambers.

A bill that has attracted considerable controversy in Georgia is SB 377, a state analogue to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in 1993. Josh McKoon, a state Senator who has attracted some attention for agitating for better government, has sponsored a similar bill for Georgia at the state level. His motivations remain unclear—repeated emails to him seeking clarification remain unanswered—but as context, he appears to also agitate for resistance against Obamacare. That SB 377 is a tool in this arsenal appears to be borne out by media reports. (Also of note: SB 377 is not as expansive as the corresponding Kansas and Arizona bills, which died quick deaths at the hands of their states’ Senate and Governor, respectively.)

From Senator McKoon’s statement in support of SB 377:

“In the absence of these laws, any government action that is not outright persecution of religion is presumptively legal.”

I say, well noted—but what government action that surpasses “outright persecution of religion” is objectionable, that this bill purports to address? The examples cited by Senator McKoon in his speech on behalf of SB 377 seem to fall well short of events that warrant governmental intervention to prevent them—especially since none of them transpired in Georgia (pace the example of the final case, which resulted in no litigation and the triumph of the Georgia house of worship).

On the other hand, as other commentators have noted, the federal RFRA forms the basis for resistance, notably on the part of for-profit corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, to Obamacare, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I can’t help but wonder whether SB 377, doomed as it now is, is simply one of the lower-profile attempts on the part of Georgia legislators (including Representatives Teasley, Ramsey, Welch and Casas, who sponsored HB 1023, the Georgia House analogue to SB 377) to advertise their futile opposition to Obamacare and thus offer their conservative bona fides to Georgia’s Tea Party et al.

Let me be perfectly clear: Multiple national commentators, such as Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, and Matthew Iglesias, have made abundantly clear more than once that the PPACA is here to stay, and opposition to it is futile. The only alternatives are national GOP tweaks that do not significantly alter the substance, but simply the particular provisions of Obamacare. Josh McKoon, in other words, is part of the time-wasting GOP vanguard against progress. Based on his past efforts, I had higher hopes for him.

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