Faith, Values in GOP's Plans; State Voters Have Spoken, Legislators Say, and They Will 'Stand Up for Georgia Values.'

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN BASINGER, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- After winning outright control of the General Assembly in last week's elections, state Republicans look forward to crafting legislation that reflects the values and faith-based ideology they say a majority of voters share.

However, some Democrats quickly forecast an almost-certain culture war that would far overshadow this year's fight at the Capitol over banning gay marriage in the Georgia Constitution.

For the last two legislative sessions, Republicans in the GOP-led Senate saw several bills backed by religious conservatives -- including a 24-hour waiting period on abortions and an initiative to allow faith-based organizations to use state money for charity work -- killed or held up in the House, where Democrats held a majority.

But after emerging from Tuesday's elections with continuing control of the Senate and at least 96 seats in the 180-member House, Republicans now have the votes needed to pass legislation in both chambers and send it on for approval by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

At the GOP Senate caucus meeting Friday, many Republicans said they were eager to see faith-based proposals come up in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

"We will stand up for Georgia values, as expressed by belief in faith and family," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens, R-Canton.

Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said he expects easy passage for some of the more controversial bills, including the abortion waiting period.

"I've always been in favor of anything that makes people think twice about [abortion]," Hill said. "If it comes back up, I think it will pass."

Democrats, now the minority party in the General Assembly for the first time in more than 130 years, were quick to agree controversial social issues would likely surge forth during the 2005 session.

"I think the core Republicans will insist on those issues being brought up," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah. "You can't run for years and years on these social issues and then, when you're given the keys to the legislature, not bring them up."

Bordeaux said the GOP's election success means bills on abortion and gay rights are likely to come up with more expansive language and scope than in past versions.

"I'd be surprised if they don't offer a total ban on abortions and let this be the test case that goes all the way to the Supreme Court," he said.

Chuck Bowen, the new director of the statewide gay-advocacy group Georgia Equality, said he expects the GOP to float a bill that would ban adoptions by gay couples, and perhaps by gay individuals, as well.

"Then we get into a whole McCarthyism thing of pointing fingers and trying to out people," Bowen said.

Michael Binford, a Georgia State University political science professor, agreed it would be politically dangerous for Republicans not to address such topics as abortion, the displaying of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and gay adoption.

Binford said voters indicated in exit polls last week that moral issues were the top priority in deciding how to vote in the 2004 elections, which went decidedly in favor of Republicans both in Georgia and throughout the nation. …