Hollywood, Silicon Valley and major companies across Georgia are up in arms about a controversial “religious liberty” bill that sits on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that the state’s top recruiter has also gotten an earful about the legislation.Chris Carr, the state commissioner of economic development, is tasked with recruiting businesses to the state and helping existing ones grow. His office also oversees workforce development and the state’s burgeoning film business.
Carr, as a matter of Department of Economic Development policy, doesn’t discuss the merits of pending legislation. But on Wednesday, Carr confirmed that he has been on the phone with companies about the contentious legislation.
While he wouldn’t divulge what those firms might have said – or what he said in response – Carr made it clear that “folks are weighing in on the issue.”
“We’ve taken it and we’ve passed those messages on to the governor; and the governor has made it very, very clear what his position is and has addressed it in the media,” Carr said in a brief interview after a luncheon with the Atlanta Trend networking group at the Holland & Knight law firm in Midtown.
Deal’s office has also heard plenty from proponents of the bill who say it is a necessary protection for faith-based groups.
A number of conservative groups have started robo-calls or made other efforts to push supporters to contact Deal and convince the governor to sign the bill.
Deal has said he would not tolerate a bill that allows discrimination – something critics say the bill does – but he has also said he was “pleasantly surprised” state lawmakers reached a deal on a bill after years of intense debate. As reported last week:
Deal told our AJC colleague Laura Diaz that he plans on reviewing the measure in April but that he won’t telegraph his intentions. Deal, who earlier warned that he would reject any measure that he believed amounted to legalized discrimination, ducked a question over whether he thought this version crossed that line.
“I have heard from both sides and I’m sure I’ll continue to hear from both sides,” he told Diaz. “I will take their opinions into consideration, and I’ll do what I’m required to do: Which is to make the difficult decision on a very difficult subject.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, often an ally of Deal’s in recruiting and other arenas, has been playing damage control with prospects.
“For us a great deal of work is ahead to deal with the devastating consequences of this legislation,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.
On Wednesday, entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. and its Marvel Studios subsidiary said it might pull its productions out of Georgia if Deal signs HB 757.
The statement from Disney and subsidiary Marvel Studios raised the pressure on Deal, who has until May 3 to decide whether to sign the legislation approved last week in the Georgia Legislature.
“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” a Disney spokesman said.
A recent string of high-profile Disney films were produced in Georgia, including “Ant-Man” and “Captain America: Civil War.” Marvel is now shooting “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” at Pinewood Studios in south Atlanta.
AMC Networks, the cable outlet that shoots “The Walking Dead” in Georgia, also called on Deal to veto the measure on Wednesday. The network said in a statement that “discrimination of any kind is reprehensible” and praised him for criticizing a previous version of the legislation.
The calls from Disney follow sharp criticism from companies such as Salesforce, Atlanta’s pro sports franchises, the National Football League and others denouncing the bill.
Atlanta officials also fear losing a chance at nabbing a Super Bowl at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2019, 2020 or 2021.
The last day of the 2016 legislative session ends today. It could be weeks before Deal makes his call on the legislation. Don’t expect the pressure from either side of the issue to die down any time soon.