A ‘USDA choice’ pro-lifer as House rules chairman

Even some insiders at the state Capitol may not know that, for the past two years, the leadership of the Republican-controlled House and significant elements of the pro-life community have not been on speaking terms.

At issue has been the anti-abortion movement’s effort to define human embryos as individuals worthy of the protection offered by the state constitution. Each year, the House has balked.

Bill Hembree of Douglas County, the new House rules chairman

Bill Hembree of Douglas County, the new House rules chairman

The issue is directly linked with embryonic stem cell research in Georgia, and attempts to expand the bio-tech industry in the state.

Frustration with Speaker Glenn Richardson became intense and personal – despite the Legislature’s passage of other anti-abortion measures, including one that required physicians to offer sonograms to women seeking abortions.

Richardson was pro-life in a generic sense, said Mike Griffin of Hartwell, legislative director and lobbyist for Georgia Right to Life. “But he wasn’t ‘USDA choice’ pro-life, if that makes sense.”

So the anti-abortion community was paying close attention last week when David Ralston, the new speaker, appointed state Rep. Bill Hembree of Douglas County, as the new chairman of the House Rules Committee.

The rules chairman is the fellow – the gender has always been so – who controls the flow of legislation to the House floor. The position is considered second in power only to the speaker himself. (Another gender perennial.) Often, the rules chairman becomes the speaker’s top lieutenant and disciplinarian.

Which makes Hembree, who won his first election to the House in 1992 at age 26, the most powerful movement conservative in the Capitol. He is a committed abortion opponent and a participant in the last two GOP legislative attempts to declare that life begins at fertilization.

The lawmaker is a “USDA choice” pro-lifer, if you will.

So does Hembree’s rise grease the chances that Georgians will soon be asked – in a proposed constitutional amendment, on a November ballot – to declare that all embryos, whether in Petri dishes or the womb, should enjoy equal protection?

No, the new rules chairman said in an interview on Wednesday. “There are some things I want to do that have not been practiced in the past,” Hembree said. “One is I will not offer any major legislation to come before the General Assembly. That’s far-reaching. I believe that, as chairman of the rules committee, it’s inappropriate for me to be a major advocate for sweeping legislation.”

Hembree’s predecessor, Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs, made some Republicans uncomfortable when he became a powerful advocate for relaxation of the state’s payday lending laws. Lawmakers, in some cases, felt squeezed.

Hembree is the former chairman of the House committee that oversees the state’s university system, and describes himself as a man of broad legislative interests. “But my record will show that I’m a social conservative,” he said.

Sponsors of life-at-fertilization legislation will have his ear, the new rules chairman said – but their legislation will have to bubble up through a revitalized and more independent House committee system. Hembree said he would restrict his advocacy to the House floor.

For instance, state Rep. Amos Amerson (R-Dahlonega), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, will still have primary say-so over any legislation that would ban or restrict embryonic stem cell research in Georgia, Hembree said.

The Douglas County lawmaker acknowledges that, even among Republicans, a balance must be struck on pro-life issues. And that it will often be his job to say no.

But sometimes the manner of rejection is more important than the rejection itself, he said.

“If it’s done in the right way, through the committee process, then as the rules committee chairman I can still say, ‘The bill has some problems.’ I can tell you no, but I can do it in a way that you don’t feel your cause is over — that maybe you go can go and try to figure out a way to change or modify it in some way,” Hembree said.

Griffin, the Georgia Right to Life lobbyist, said the pro-life community can be satisfied with that, and with Hembree’s reputation. The state’s most ardent opponents of abortion can also take comfort in the knowledge that the recent hostilities are over.

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

13 comments Add your comment


January 21st, 2010
12:15 am

Thank goodness! An ethical Rules Chairman. I am impressed that he said he would not offer any major legislation. I have seen him at work in committee meetings. He has a good grasp of the subject when he speaks and is a great communicator.

Dr. Aborto

January 21st, 2010
3:40 am

I have hope that the libs will eventually abort themselves into extinction. You know if they want to be pro-baby body bagges, then it could happen to them.

Bill Orvis White

January 21st, 2010
7:43 am

Dr. Aborto-
Don’t give the far left more “meat” with your comments. Liberals can be turned around-this is the centerpiece of my crusade.
We’re all Gods children and life must be protected no matter what.
Remember that it was a guy named Adolph who “aborted” segments of
the population. We all know how that turned out and that’s why we must
Fight this form of modern genocide. We all must respect each other and be
civil–do not lose your way and be focused. This is how we can bring back a
culture of life that we enjoyed recently from 1981-93 and again from 2001-2009.
Keep hope alive for the unborn and God Bless,

double g

January 21st, 2010
9:06 am

Does tissue in a petrie dish have a heartbeat? Until it does, is it really a life?

How some can declare life begins at conception……well, is it fact, or is it opinion.


January 21st, 2010
9:13 am

Dr. Aborto, you’re a sick, sidelined zealot. Your own people chime in against you talking about ‘body bags’.
You folks come at this from a paternalistic, religious stance, which means you have no right to dictate to me what I do with my own health-related matters.
I had an abortion thirty years ago in Atlanta. I remember very vividly praying with the other girls in the waiting room. We all thanked god that we were having our abortions in a clean, medical facility – not some back alley butcher. I thank god today that I was able to have that abortion. Unlike you two men, however, I’m content to let god sort all this out at the appropriate time. I don’t presume to know the mind of god.
Last time I looked, that’s the first deadly sin. Boys, you’re sinners! I’m a sinner but at least I don’t go around foisting my religious beliefs on others. That might fly in Haiti or Dubai, but honey, honey, honey, this is America.
You gentlemen shouldn’t be so concerned with the unborn. They are in god’s hands. Go do something productive with your time. There are thousands of living, breathing children right there – right there in Georgia!! – who are going to school hungry, who are teased by their friends for wearing ill-fitting clothes, who go home to chaos, confusion, and squalor. Those little kids need your help.
You claim to care so much for children – prove it, ’cause I don’t believe you give a donkey’s backside about children at all. You just want to control your women, and the fact that they think you might not worthy to breed with makes you mad.


January 21st, 2010
9:24 am

Should we change the census this year to include embryos and fetuses?

The Snark

January 21st, 2010
10:27 am

Better a pro-lifer with respect for other legislator’s opinions than a thug like Earl Ehrhart.

A Georiga Whig Party member

January 21st, 2010
11:34 am

This subject generally sucks because the defination of life is fluid (changes from person to person). However there are other ways to stamp out abortion and it has to do with going to the root causes and fighting it there…teen preganacy, horrible adoption practices, contriceptive use, pregnacy counciling etc… I am pro-life, but I am not anti-abortion, it should be legal (to a point) so we make it safe, and we should fight the causes tooth and nail. I realize its a compromise on both sides, but honestly isn’t that kind of the first step. Doing what we all can agree on? Just a thought.

I appreciated Hembree’s professional stance when it comes to his job requirements, hopefully its not just talk.


January 21st, 2010
11:48 am

Abortion is a woman’s right and men, whether Republican or Democrat, have no business legislating it.

Charles T

January 21st, 2010
5:39 pm

Something that has puzzled me from the start is how a mother can kill a fetus and there is no repercussion but if the father somehow kills the fetus ( for instance by hitting or maybe even shooting the mother in the stomach) , he is charged with murder ?
A mother can kill a fetus and there is no crime ( it is just a developing mass of body tissue , not a human being ) but if an assailant kills a pregnant woman , he is charged with double murder. How can that be ? It is either a human or it is not !!

Dr. Aborto

January 21st, 2010
5:46 pm

I find it so funny that libs and cry baby touchy feelly other types are offended by my earlier comments, but the murder of a life is a no big deal and is now the sacrement of the Theology of Liberalism:

I have hope that the libs will eventually abort themselves into extinction. You know if they want to be pro-baby body baggers, then it could happen to them.


January 22nd, 2010
11:10 pm

lizinsarasota – Strange how in one sentence you admit being a baby murdering slut, yet in the next you’re telling everyone else how they need to take care of their children. You are SEVERELY mentally-ill and way beyond help.


January 22nd, 2010
11:13 pm

Bobby – Is that the best you can do – parrot that old worn out line of b/s? You don’t have enough sense to cross the street without help, you fool!