By Billy Corriher
Hundreds of gay and lesbian activists rallied at the state Capitol Friday to protest a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
Alan Thornell, executive director of the gay rights group Georgia Equality, said his group decided to rally at the Capitol so their views would be heard by legislators.
"We wanted to tell them ?We are in your district and we deserve to be treated with respect,'" he said. "We just want to be treated equally."
Rep. Karla Lea Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, is the legislature's only openly gay member.
"We will not stand by and watch this happen," she said. "Discrimination of any sort is empirically and morally wrong."
But state Sen. Mike Crotts, D-Conyers, said same-sex marriage is already illegal in Georgia, and the amendment would only further codify the law.
"There's nothing being done in this legislation that is taking anything away that's not already taken away," he said.
Crotts said the legislation is not a moral issue, but a legal one. The bill would prevent judges from having to define marriage if a lawsuit is brought against the state by a same-sex couple that was married in another state and wants to be recognized here, he said.
While protesters gathered in the halls, the Senate was busy debating transportation bills.
The Senate unanimously passed a plan targeting congested traffic in metro-Atlanta. The resolution urges the Department of Transportation to study extending high-occupancy vehicle lanes outside the city of Atlanta and creating "hot lanes," which motorists could only use if they pay a toll.
State Sen. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, who sits on the transportation committee, said the study is sorely needed.
"We need to do something to relieve this congestion," she said.
Seay also said the DOT's proposed commuter rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy would relieve some congestion.
Seay discussed the plan earlier this week with Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has to sign off on the plan. Perdue rejected the original plan to install the rail line from Atlanta to Macon, but the DOT said it can build the rail to Lovejoy with the money already allotted.
"I wanted to tell the governor that Clayton County certainly thinks it would be a worthwhile move to invest in," she said, adding that Perdue has not made a decision yet.
Also last week, state Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, became part of a bipartisan committee to prepare legislation dealing with illegal immigration.
"We have a problem across Georgia and the country with immigration," he said. "Immigrants are not the problem, the numbers of immigrants are."
Lunsford said Georgia needs to be prepared if President Bush's proposed migrant worker law passes Congress.
"We need to know how we're going to handle that," he said.
Lunsford said immigrants can stress the state's infrastructure and create issues with national security. He said he hopes to have legislation passed this session after looking at immigration's impact on infrastructure, health care and education.
Another proposal to revise the HOPE scholarship was introduced on Friday by Rep. James Mill, R-Gainesville, who wants college freshmen to be ineligible for the scholarship until the end of the school year, when they could get a full refund if they kept a "B" average.
Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said the bill did not have much support because it was "too drawn out." Buckner said she thinks the only suggestion to revise the scholarship that has enough support to pass is the one that prevents the scholarship from paying for student fees and books.
On Thursday, Buckner's bill passed that requires school boards in Georgia to adopt an ethics policy and review it every year.
A current law encourages school boards to form their own ethic policy, but Buckner's legislation would make the policies a requirement.
Several members of the Clayton County Board of Education were criticized for in-fighting and bad judgment last year after firing Superintendent Dan Colwell. But Buckner said it's not clear if an ethics plan would have helped in that situation.
"It's hard to go back and say it would have made an impact? but it always helps to have elected officials educated about the decisions they make," she said.
The Senate on Friday signed off on a plan to name a stretch of State Route 20 in Henry County after former President George H. W. Bush. The George H.W. Bush Parkway would run from Interstate 75 to the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.