There was little debate before the 173-3 vote. Only Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, raised the point that the other people commemorated with statues on the grounds had either served as elected governors, senators or both.
The sponsor of House Bill 1080, Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said while King was never elected, he is the only Georgian to have a national holiday and one of two to have received a Nobel Peace Prize. The other Nobel laureate, former governor and president Jimmy Carter, already has his likeness on the grounds.
“This will be the most significant tribute paid to Dr. King since President Reagan signed the holiday into law because we will be honoring him in his home,” said Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, and a one-time aide to King.
Majority Leader Larry O’Neal also called on his colleagues to support the measure as a credit to the whole state and a likely tourist attraction.
“Not only does it honor a truly great, great, great Georgian in his home state but it will become a shrine of achievement,” said O’Neal, R-Bonaire.
An hour earlier, the House split 138-37 to pass a separate bill putting the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds.
Both measures still require passage by the Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.