479 NEWS

Regarding the Heartbeat Bill HB481

From the Desk of Mike Akins, Business Agent IATSE Local 479

Dear Brothers and Sisters of Local 479,

Many of you have contacted the office over the last couple of weeks regarding HB 481, i.e. the “Heartbeat Bill”, which was passed by both the House and Senate, and is expected to be signed by Governor Kemp within the next few weeks. While we prefer to discuss these matters with our members on an individual basis, so as not to invite confusion or misunderstanding, we recognize that it is important for the membership as a whole to hear from the Local about the efforts being made on your behalf.

First, understand that Local 479 is very dialed in to all the happenings at our State Capitol. We employ a lobbyist who reports directly to our office on an almost daily basis while the Legislature is in session, and we have been following both the progress of this bill as well as media reporting regarding its opposition. For our part, we reached out to the representatives who support our industry and they listened to our concerns. Things do not always turn out exactly as we hope they will, though. To summarize HB 481’s process so far, it was initially introduced in the House and sent to the Senate for approval.  A Senate committee made changes to the bill; the full Senate approved the bill with those changes and then sent their language back to the House for them to approve the updated bill. On March 29, the Georgia House of Representatives voted to approve HB 481 with the Senate’s changes and sent it to Governor Kemp for his signature. When he signs the bill, as he has publicly said he would do, we anticipate the filing of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill. We expect this legal challenge because of declarations from the ACLU that it would file such a lawsuit as well as what has occurred in other states which passed similar legislation and the litigation which followed in those jurisdictions.    

Should this happen, it is important to be aware of a few things.  These sorts of lawsuits normally trigger an injunction, temporarily suspending enforcement of the law until such time as the courts issue a final order on the lawsuit. This means that Georgia’s current laws governing abortions would remain in effect throughout any and all court proceedings. Between hearings, appeals, and other deliberations, several years could pass before a final decision is reached, possibly by the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, in the event a court injunction issues, we can be reasonably assured that, for the foreseeable future, this new legislation will not be enforced for quite some time, if ever.

Our research shows that over 20 other states introduced similar bills in their legislatures either this year or last year, and those that have passed have either been overturned or are still in litigation at this time.

Politico.com: Pushing for ‘heartbeat’ abortion bills, more states try to force Supreme Court to revisit Roe

Georgia is, by no means, the first state to introduce this bill and vote it into law. “States around the country have pursued similar legislation, though none have been successful in implementing the bans. Republican governors in Mississippi and Kentucky have recently signed heartbeat abortion bans, while lawmakers in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Ohio have introduced similar legislation.”

CBS News: Hollywood’s elite threatens Georgia boycott over abortion ban as other states try to poach business

Nevertheless, it is quite reasonable to be concerned for the security of our livelihoods in this industry, considering the outcries that news media have focused on, which have centered on threatened boycotts by Hollywood actors and other industry personages. Much of what we see in the print and online media is speculation, so it is important to point out some things we know to be true:

  • There have been ZERO official statements from the industry decision-makers that show any indication that they will seek alternative locations outside of Georgia to make their projects. Yes, a group of actors spoke out, and yes, the Writer’s Guild of America made strong recommendations against this bill; however, the studios themselves have issued no comments to date, and we have no reason to think any of them will.
  • There is more demand for content today than EVER before. Studios have charged their producers to create hundreds of new projects in 2019, essentially doubling the amount of current production. Between streaming services, network content, and major studio features, there should be plenty of opportunities. At the end of the day, the work must get done, and we believe that Georgia will continue to be the top economic choice for production.
  • Most responsible persons in the industry and the media, as well as many politicians, recognize that a boycott of Georgia will only adversely affect the thousands of jobs created by the entertainment industry in Georgia.  It will have little or no effect on the national agenda associated with this bill.

Local 479 is in a unique position that very few other labor unions find themselves in, and that is that we have solid relationships with members of our state legislature, especially those in important leadership positions. These relationships allow us to speak individually to our elected officials to make our voices heard by the leaders that need to hear them. Meeting with influential members of the Legislature directly offers the most straightforward and clear way to convey our message, and therefore it has been a much more successful path for us than to publicize our views and rely on media coverage. While we are always advocating what is best for our industry, we choose to do so in a way that also recognizes the positions of our state’s leadership. It is unique that our state government, which is Republican controlled, supports our industry and positively acknowledges our efforts to partner with them to continue to grow it. This is why you may not hear many public statements made by the union. Be assured it is NOT because we are not concerned; instead, it is because we respect and wish to maintain these important relationships long into the future.  After all, these are the same elected officials who voted for the initial film tax credit and the ones we rely on to preserve it going forward.

We are as involved as ever in all of the efforts to bring and keep work in our state. 479 is the first labor union to hold an executive seat on a Chamber of Commerce affiliate – “The Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition”– which is made up of other business leaders in the state that have a vested interest in the continued success of our industry. We have had a seat on the Governor’s Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Commission Advisory Board under the last two governors and have been asked to serve in the same capacity under Governor Kemp. We have run ads in the Hollywood Reporter to directly reach studio producers and other Hollywood decision makers, confirming that the labor force in Georgia is skilled and plentiful and that the infrastructure built here is available and accessible to them. While all of these acts make a difference, the Georgia Film Tax Incentive remains the single most important element needed to maintain an active stream of production, and our top priority has and always will be to make sure our incentive remains strong.

No matter what happens moving forward, know that your Local is active in communicating with our state government about the importance of our industry’s continued survival and growth as well as with the Hollywood studios about how actions happening here in Georgia affect their decisions. We encourage our members to continue to reach out directly to the office or executive board to discuss your questions about our involvement, as the majority of the Local’s actions happen out of the public eye. We also encourage you to be politically active by speaking to the representatives of your districts directly to inform them of your views. Every Georgia citizen has that right and responsibility. On a personal level, please relay your convictions in a respectful and effective manner and know the Local speaks for the membership as a whole.

Together we can work to protect our industry.

In Service and Unity,
Michael Akins
Business Agent