New Bill Would Aid Religious Groups Charities Could Tap into Government Funds

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- After several years of unsuccessful efforts by Republicans, a Democrat-backed plan to allow faith-based charities to tap into government funds has cleared its first hurdle in the General Assembly.

A House committee unanimously approved a bill yesterday that would permit religious organizations to draw upon government aid for various services, such as drug treatment programs.

The measure now goes to the full House.

For the past two years, Republican lawmakers have pushed a proposed amendment to the Georgia Constitution, which currently prohibits using state money to benefit religious groups.

The new bill, which Gov. Roy Barnes is including in his legislative agenda, doesn't go as far as the Republicans would like, but is a good start, Rep. Charlie Smith, the governor's floor leader in the House, told the committee.

"We want to take this relatively small step now to see how it works,'' said Smith, D-St. Marys.

The legislation would let Georgia take advantage of a federal law that allows state and local governments to aid faith-based charities in providing services through certain federal programs.

The types of programs include substance abuse and welfare to work, Smith said. …