ATLANTA - Just one day after proposing a controversial bill that could have banned Muslim women from wear a burqa in public, the bill's author has withdrawn the bill from the state legislature.
The bill’s author told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant on Wednesday that his focus was strictly on public safety but the critics believe it's anything but.
Georgia Muslim Voter Project's Aisha Yaqoob told Diamant she has been left unnerved by a the bill, pre-filed with the Georgia House of Representatives this week, which she feels is rooted in bigotry
"I don't see the need for a law that specifically targets Muslim women." Yaqoob said. "It's frustrating. I was hoping not to have an issue like this come up so soon."
House Bill 3, written by state Rep. Jason Spencer, R- Woodbine, wouldn't just prohibit Muslim women from wearing burqas or veils in state driver’s license photos -- a rule the Department of Driver Services already has -- but it would also ban them from covering their faces while driving and possibly while on any public property.
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The bill's specific language says: "For the purposes of this subsection, the phrase 'upon any public way or property' includes but is not limited to operating a motor vehicle upon any public street, road, or highway."
"I can't see where it's coming from at all," Yaqoob told Diamant.
Diamant reached Spencer by phone Wednesday. He said his bill seeks to clarify the state's current anti-masking statue and no bigotry is intended.
"This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns of the rise of Islamic terrorism, and we in the State of Georgia do not want our laws used against us," Spencer said.
Spencer said he also has other concerns.
"Number one, you're not a public safety risk by blocking and obstructing your vision while on the road, but also that you're identifiable to law enforcement," Spencer said.
"The bill is a bad solution to a non-existent problem," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell with the Council on American Muslim Relations. "Very few Georgia Muslim women wear face veils, but those who do have a Constitutional right to do so."
Ironically, the state's anti-masking statute, which the new bill would amend, was first passed decades ago to target the Ku Klux Klan and its white hoods.
Thursday afternoon, Spencer released a statement saying he was withdrawing the bill.
“After further consideration, I have decided to not pursue HB 3 in the upcoming 2017 legislative session due to the visceral reaction it has created," Spencer said in a statement Thursday. “While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created. 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. In conclusion, anti-masking statutes have been upheld as constitutional (State v Miller, 1990), and HB 3 would withstand legal scrutiny, but not political scrutiny.”
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