Your Georgia Desk:
Gold Dome Update: Week 9
Sen. Bill Heath (R–Bremen)
The Georgia General Assembly is approaching the very last days of the 2014 Legislative Session. Although many people simply refer to the last day as Day 40, it is also known as Sine Die, Latin for indefinitely. The last day of the legislative session can be very long, but it is also full of tradition.
During the remaining two days of session – and in some cases, the last few hours of session – bills that will significantly impact Georgians statewide will be debated and adopted in both Chambers at a rapid pace. While there is a sense of urgency to pass bills prior to the 40 day deadline, it is extremely important to ensure bills are not rushed through the process or result in any unintended consequences.
Since we’ve now completed day 38 of the 40-day session, I would like to provide a recap of some of the bills that we’ve discussed previously while also updating you on this year’s gun bill. Many of you have written me asking for updates on specific pieces of legislation, so I’d like to take some time to specifically address the status of several bills.
These topics include: legalizing gun suppressors for hunting; a convention of states to reign in federal spending; preventing illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses; prohibiting the General Assembly from re-enacting the ad valorem tax; banning the government from using tax dollars to pay for abortions performed through the State Health Benefit Plan or Affordable Care Act health exchanges; preserving religious liberties.
One of the topics currently being debated by members of the Senate is changes in our gun laws. House Bill 875 and House Bill 60 are the two gun bills in play at the moment. Both bills call for changes in who can lawfully carry a firearm and where weapons can legally be carried. As a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, I have consistently supported measures to protect and maintain the rights of lawfully abiding Georgia gun owners.
In the final hours of last year’s session, the House and Senate repeatedly disagreed on a final version of a bill that would have protected the rights of law-abiding gun owners. The bill, Senate Bill 101, would have removed burdensome reporting requirements for firearm dealers and recognized out-of-state weapons carry licenses in Georgia. In addition, it would have provided persons between the ages of 18- 21 to possess a weapon carry license provided they have completed basic military training. The bill would have also strengthened confidentiality by prohibiting the creation of a database of weapons license holders. But, even though this bill was carefully vetted in the committee process and supported by pro-Second Amendment groups like Georgia Carry, the Senate and House leadership never allowed a vote on the compromise.
This year, we find ourselves in a similar situation as legislators wrangle over a bill aimed at expanding where lawful gun owners can carry firearms. House Bill 875, known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, was excessively debated in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil committee on Wednesday. The legislation passed by the committee made only small improvements in where law-abiding citizens may carry a firearm. The bill would also make it more difficult for individuals to obtain a Georgia carry license if convicted of domestic violence, violent battery or deemed mentally incompetent.
While this bill allows both private and public municipalities to set their own regulations regarding weapons carry on their property, the campus carry provision was stripped out of the bill entirely. As this legislation currently stands, local school boards and school administrators may approve a limited number of personnel to possess and carry a weapon if proper training and licensure is obtained. The ability to lawfully carry a firearm in school zones –even if only a selected few are granted this privilege – could be the key to preventing another school shooting. We know that mass shootings most often occur where law-abiding citizens are denied their right to self-defense.
While many other pro Second Amendment provisions were stripped from the bill in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, I don’t have the space here to cover them all. It is my hope the language passed by the committee will be available for all to see at some point, but at the time of this writing, it is not yet available.
Another bill that gives hope to Georgia’s law-abiding citizens is a repurposed bill that originally only allowed certain judges additional gun rights. After the Senate made changes to HB60, the House amended it to include the original language of HB875 mentioned above. It is my hope that I can get the Senate to agree to HB60 as amended to include the language to allow hunting with legally-owned suppressors.
The amended version of HB60 would still permit licensed gun holders to carry firearms in bars and churches unless otherwise stated by the property owner. The amended version also contains the original provisions regarding the carrying of weapons in government buildings that do not have posted security checkpoints. The amendment does eliminate the campus carry provisions that decriminalized the carrying of weapons on a college or university campus and provided instead for a $100 fine. The provisions on carrying guns in schools, school safety zones, on school transportation, and at school functions, however, appear to remain the same in both bills. The amendment to HB 60 also restores the original provisions from HB 875 regarding self-defense and the stand-your-ground statute.
The amended version of HB60 does not contain the provisions found within HB875 relating to individuals with mental illness or those convicted of assault. But, one provision that was re-introduced to the bill would prohibit a multijurisdictional database containing information on weapons license holders. The protection of licensee was a concept I introduced last year in SB197.
The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We need to protect this Constitutional right for future generations and ensure private property owners have the right to decide whether to allow firearms on premise. I hopethe General Assembly can come to a consensus on a mutually-agreed upon bill that will strengthen protections for responsible, law-abiding Georgia gun owners.
At the request of readers, below is a status update of several bills traveling through the legislative process:
SB93: This bill allows the use of suppressors on legal hunting firearms, and suspends hunting privileges of a person convicted of violating certain hunting regulations.
Status: Passed Senate; held by the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee
SB98: This legislation bans the government from using tax dollars to pay for abortions performed through the State Health Benefit Plan or Affordable Care Act health exchanges. Status: Watered down in the House Insurance Committee
SB377: This bill would protect private businesses from being sued for adhering to religious beliefs.
Status: Held by Senate Leadership
SB404: If enacted, this bill would have prevented the issuance or renewal of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
Status: Held by Senate Leadership
SR736: If passed, Georgia would become the first state to call for a convention of states for the purposes of imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government.
Status: Achieved final passage
SR783: This resolution proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to prevent the Georgia General Assembly from re-enacting future ad valorem taxes without the approval of the voters.
Status: Passed out of House Ways and Means Committee
The 2014 Legislative Session is scheduled end on March 20, and although I am looking forward to being back in the district, there will still be a lot of post-session work to do. To access additional information about a particular bill, please visit the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov.