Capitol Recap: Will Deal keep veto pen in holster for new gun bill?

The campus gun bill returned to the Gold Dome this past week. Now, we're waiting to see whether it faces a "High Noon" showdown with Gov. Nathan Deal.

This year's bill, House Bill 280, is a lot like the measure Deal shot down last year.

It would still allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun most anywhere on a public college or university campus. Dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses would be off-limits, and so would athletic events.

One new wrinkle: On-campus child care centers would also remain gun-free.

That’s a tip of the Stetson to Deal.

Last year, the governor’s office sent out a statement that Deal wanted to see some changes in the campus gun bill. The exception for child care centers was one of them.

He also said the state’s universities and technical colleges should be able to set their own rules about whether firearms could be brought inside faculty and administrative offices and to disciplinary hearings.

But the statement came out after the Legislature had already approved the bill. That was a little late in the process for some legislators, and they refused to consider legislation to accommodate any of Deal’s concerns.

The governor responded with a veto.

That was good to some (the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America) and bad to others (the gun rights group Georgia Carry).

And it got ugly. The second Republican governor in modern Georgia history suffered a rebuke from his own party at its state convention in June. Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District even censured him, passing a resolution that said Deal has "amassed a long and terrible record of governing in association with liberal Democrats and crony capitalists" on a number of issues, including gun rights.

This go-round, state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, who filed HB 280 on Tuesday, said she considered Deal's other suggestions but decided critics' concerns were overblown.

“We need to permit people to defend themselves,” she said.

Meanwhile, like many a cinema gunfighter, Deal is remaining quiet.

Back in January, though, he did say that he would not “prejudge anything” because he wanted to see what the legislators produced.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Medical pot bill moves; advocates unmoved

bill to expand the state's medical marijuana law is moving ahead in the Senate, but cannabis advocates fear it could hurt more people than it would help.

A Senate committee on Tuesday endorsed Senate Bill 16, a piece of legislation that gives and takes.

The current law allows patients — or in the case of children, their families — to register with the state and be able to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight specific illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

SB 16 would add autism to that list.

But it would also reduce the maximum level of THC in the cannabis oil, from 5 percent to 3 percent. THC is the component responsible for the high that marijuana users feel.

For the parents of children who use the oil, it’s a case of don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. The oil at 5 percent THC helps ease the debilitating conditions their children face, such as multiple seizures on a daily basis.

State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, the bill's lead sponsor and a doctor, told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the concerns of some senators prompted the proposed reduction in THC. One of those concerns is that federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug — other Schedule I drugs you may know include heroin, LSD and mescaline — and poses a high risk for abuse and addiction, with no accepted medical uses.

Medical marijuana advocates are more inclined to support state Rep. Allen Peake'sHouse Bill 65. It would expand the list of illnesses and conditions eligible for treatment with medical marijuana in Georgia to include Alzheimer's disease, autism, HIV/AIDS, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and Tourette's syndrome.

The drive begins for cars without drivers

Nobody would be at the wheel, and that strikes state Rep. Trey Kelley just fine.

Kelley is the sponsor of House Bill 248, which would allow self-driving cars to operate on public roads in Georgia.

“I think the technology has changed, and I think the climate is prime here in Georgia,” the Republican from Cedartown said.

Kelley could be stepping on the gas a bit.

In 2015, the Autonomous Vehicle Technology Study Committee found that the state needed to first improve its business climate and develop skilled workers before self-driving cars could take to the road. Kelley was chairman of that committee.

If HB 248 were to become law, Georgia would be joining five other states — California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and Tennessee — and the District of Columbia in passing laws dealing with autonomous driving.

Lawmakers support recess— for others

A playground fight isn’t likely over this next bill.

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, wants Georgia's schools to offer at least 30 minutes of "unsupervised, unstructured activity time" each day for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Douglas did his homework on this one. Everybody seems to love recess. His House Bill 273 has lots of schoolyard pals, both Democrats and Republicans.

Sponsors include state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrnastate Rep. Spencer Frye, D-Athensstate Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth; and state Rep. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough.

Last year, Douglas made a similar case for recess in a resolution, which does not carry the power of law. It passed easily.

Now that somebody’s looking after Junior, how about the rest of us?

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Staff writers Michelle Baruchman, Greg Bluestein, Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres contributed to this article.

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