From a religious-freedom bill to a proposed English-only constitutional amendment, Georgia politicians and advocates are invoking Amazon's name.
The prospect of luring the retailer here is being used as political ammunition, notwithstanding that Amazon.com Inc. is months away from picking among Atlanta and 19 other finalists for the location of its second headquarters.
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Jeff Graham, who runs the state's leading gay-rights organization, Georgia Equality, said he mentions the prospect of losing the online-shopping giant to rally opposition to a religious-freedom bill he considers discriminatory.
"Amazon has really upped the ante," Mr. Graham said.
Proponents of the bill say it will have no impact on gay rights in the state. They say Amazon likely will pay little attention to the measure. An earlier, broader version of the bill passed the state's General Assembly two years ago, but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal following public criticism from large companies, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
Critics say the current bill, now sitting in a Senate committee, could allow individuals to deny services to people if doing so contradicts their religious convictions.
In December, Republican state Sen. Marty Harbin, a leading backer of the bill, posted a video on YouTube titled "On Amazon and RFRA," referring to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In the video, he said if Amazon decided not to come to Georgia, it would be because it didn't make financial sense, not because of passage of the law. "Amazon will accept RFRA whether they like it or not," he said.
It is difficult to divine how state legislation will influence Amazon's decision. A person familiar with the matter said Amazon will measure metro areas' inclusiveness, and the consideration or passage of such legislation will be a factor in its decision-making.
Amazon, which has closely guarded its site-selection process, declined to comment on how heavily such legislation might weigh on its choice.
In its pitch in September to cities seeking to draw its promised 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of investment, Amazon said it sought "the presence and support of a diverse population, excellent institutes of higher education, local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company."
Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has been a supporter of gay rights, and Amazon has said any city it picks must be a "compatible cultural and community environment."
Several states on Amazon's shortlist, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, have passed religious-liberties legislation. Opponents of Georgia's religious freedom bill, however, point out that many states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, also have civil-rights statutes that explicitly protect gay people, while Georgia doesn't.
Opponents of several Georgia bills dealing with immigration, including a state Senate resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to make English Georgia's official language, have labeled the proposals "Adios Amazon" bills. A state Senate committee favorably recommended the resolution about the English language to the full Senate last week.
In a press conference with refugee and immigrant advocacy groups at the state capitol, Christopher Bruce, policy counsel of the ACLU of Georgia, said the bills would "wipe out opportunities for our state to attract potential economic powerhouses like Amazon."
Proponents of the bill have said that they believe the bill would have no impact on the Amazon bid.
Georgia legislators are considering, for the first time, providing substantial state funding for the Atlanta area mass-transit system, in part to tackle concerns that the city's longstanding traffic congestion might hurt its Amazon bid. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said recently that she planned to address a shortage of affordable housing, in part to make the city more attractive to businesses like Amazon.
The revival of the religious-freedom bill comes in an election year. Four leading Republican gubernatorial candidates have pledged to sign it if elected. A January 2017 poll of about 900 Georgian voters found a majority of the Republicans surveyed supported the legislation.
State Sen. Michael Williams, a GOP candidate for governor, said the bill would simply guarantee rights for people with strongly held religious beliefs, something he said Amazon should support. "Allowing state residents to enjoy religious liberties, what cost is that?" he said.
Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor and former state representative, said she opposed legislation in part because it would hurt the state with Amazon and other large businesses. She said opposing the bill would benefit the state, creating an environment in which "both local businesses and Amazon can prosper."
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 30, 2018 14:46 ET (19:46 GMT)
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