A majority of House members voted Feb. 18 in favor of legislation to expand the number of places where licensed persons can legally carry firearms. HB 875 includes the following provisions:
* Removal of fingerprinting for renewal of Weapons Carry Licenses (WCL)
* Prohibiting the state from creating and maintaining a database of WCL holders
* Creation of an absolute defense for the legal use of deadly force in the face of a violent attack
* Codifying the ability to legally carry, with a WCL, in non-restricted areas of airports when there is no criminal intent
* Incorporation of NICS Improvement Amendments Act for mental health reporting
* Allowing school systems to decide whether staff and faculty may carry a firearm on school property
* Allowing the lawful carry by WCL holders in government buildings where it is not currently restricted or security screening personnel are posted during regular business hours and in certain private establishments, including churches and bars, while leaving the decision to the property owner
The “campus carry” provision was dropped after a compromise that would allow the presidents of individual colleges and universities to decide whether weapons could be legally carried on campus was declared unconstitutional by the Office of Legislative Counsel, citing a potential "improper delegation of legislative authority," which would violate the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
However, the criminal penalty for possessing a firearm on campus would be reduced to a civil fine of $100 under HB 875, which now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
I opposed this legislation because, as I told my House colleagues during the debate, HB 875 is a voter mobilization bill that has nothing to do with gun control, in other words, a skunk that has been wrapped in silk and dunked in Chanel No. 5 perfume. The presence of more guns in bars and churches, in our schools, on our campuses and other public places likely makes for a more dangerous, rather than safer environment.
FY 2015 Budget: On Feb. 17, the House voted overwhelmingly to approve a $20.8 billion state budget plan for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1. HB 744 reflects an overall increase of $916 million, or 4.6 percent more than the fiscal year 2014 budget as originally approved. Year-to-date revenues for the first seven months of the current fiscal year show an increase of 5 percent over last year.
In the House-approved budget, nearly three-quarters of all new revenue goes toward education, with 59 percent of the increase going toward a $538.6 million infusion for K-12 schools, which includes $314.2 million to go toward eliminating teacher furlough days, increasing instructional days or raising teacher salaries, at the discretion of local school boards. That funding is only a partial restoration of austerity cuts from previous years.
Georgia's investment in higher education is boosted by $120.7 million (13 percent of new revenue) in the House plan. That amount includes a $22.5 million increase for the HOPE Scholarship program to cover more recipients and increase the award amount; $12.2 million to increase the HOPE Grant program to provide full tuition payment for qualifying technical college students; and $10 million for a new low-interest loan program for technical college students.
The University System and Technical College System will also receive $14.4 million for merit-based pay adjustments and employee recruitment and retention initiatives.
Georgia Public Safety officers receive merit-based pay increases in the House plan, and an additional $5.4 million will go to the GBI and Natural Resources for the final year of a three-year House initiative to retain experienced, certified law enforcement personnel in state service by providing competitive salaries. The Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the District Attorneys' offices are also allocated additional funds for pay increases.
In health and human services related expenditures, HB 744 includes $7.3 million for 175 additional child protective services workers, $6.8 million for Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine operating grants and $1 million to enhance trauma care services statewide.
The bond package in the House version of the budget totals $813 million, including $273 million for K-12 capital projects; $215.7 million for construction and repairs on Georgia's college, university and technical college campuses; $175.5 million for economic development projects, with $35 million going toward the state's cost for deepening the Savannah Harbor; and $148.4 million for other projects such as prison upgrades, two helicopters for the Georgia State Patrol and the replacement of law enforcement vehicles across the state.
HB 744 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
HOPE Grant Increase: On Feb. 19, the House approved HB 697, which would restore full tuition reimbursement for HOPE Grant recipients who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average in our technical colleges.
After HOPE Grant tuition funding was reduced three years ago, enrollment in our technical colleges dropped by nearly 20 percent. Restoring these funds will not only help our technical college students, they will help Georgia have a more skilled workforce.
HB 697 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
It is an honor to represent you at the State Capitol. Please contact me with your views on the issues, or whenever I can be of service.
Williams, D-Midway, represents District 168 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at email@example.com.