This story has been updated.
A Georgia lawmaker has withdrawn a pre-filed Georgia House bill that would restrict certain types of religious headwear when driving or posing for a driver’s license photo.
State Rep. Jason Spencer had pre-filed House Bill 3 on Tuesday. The bill would’ve made it a misdemeanor for someone to wear masks or other facial concealment while driving in Georgia, according to a news release. It also would’ve added a code section that would prohibit someone’s identity from being concealed when obtaining a state driver’s license or identification card.
On Thursday, Spencer said he was withdrawing the bill.
“While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created,” he said in a news release. “My objective was to address radical elements that could pose a threat to public safety. However, further consideration dictates that other solutions will need to be considered.”
Critics had said the bill would bar burqas or veils worn by Muslim women, but Spencer said he had no intention of targeting a specific group.
Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who represents District 89, condemned the legislation.
“This offensive and bigoted legislation is a direct result of the rhetoric we heard during Donald Trump’s Islamophobic Presidential campaign,” Abrams said in a news release. “During the past legislative session, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus stood firmly against legislation that would have enshrined discrimination in to our laws under the guise of religious freedom. Now, in that same spirit, we will reaffirm our commitment to fighting back against legislation that harms the free exercise of religion and singles out any community in our state. In the era of an impending administration that traffics in xenophobia and flouts the 1st Amendment, we cannot afford to be silent when Georgians’ constitutionally-protected rights are threatened.”
Spencer says he was merely clarifying and strengthening a law that has already been in place to make the state safer from terrorists.
“The Georgia anti-masking law has been in existence for decades to address credible threats from masked terrorists posed to the public, specifically on Georgia’s public ways and private property. These laws were initially enacted to eliminate forms of terrorist threats and discourage violence that anonymity encourages and aid in the apprehension of criminals. This legislation certainly represents a compelling government interest,” the news release from Spencer says.
The proposed change would’ve add the pronoun “she,” which Spencer is done only to bring uniformity and equal applicability to the law.
Bert Brantley, the commissioner of the state Department of Driver Services, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that wearing burqas in state license photographs is already prohibited.
“We have agency rules against any kind of facial covering,” Brantley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have to be able to see from below the chin to above the eyebrows.”
That current rule does not prohibit wearing headwear while driving.