On Crossover Day, lawmakers OK guns on campus as tax bills fall

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (second from left) chats with state Sens. Frank Ginn (left) and Butch Miller on the floor of the state Senate on Friday, which was Crossover Day, the final day for a bill to move from one chamber to the other this year and have a clear path of becoming law this year. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (second from left) chats with state Sens. Frank Ginn (left) and Butch Miller on the floor of the state Senate on Friday, which was Crossover Day, the final day for a bill to move from one chamber to the other this year and have a clear path of becoming law this year. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

The Georgia House on Friday voted for the second straight year to allow firearms on the state’s public college and university campuses as lawmakers worked late into the night on a raucous Crossover Day.

The House voted 108-63 to send House Bill 280 to the Senate, which also agreed in 2016 to allow those 21 and older with a Georgia weapons permit to carry concealed weapons on to most parts of college campuses.

It was perhaps the most high-profile bill of the 28th day of the 2017 legislative session, the daylong sprint known as Crossover Day. Friday was a key deadline to get a bill moved from one chamber to the other without parliamentary maneuvering.

It was a day that saw the Senate strengthen regulations on pipelines and the House reject, with bipartisan fervor, a pair of tax cut bills while approving others. Remarkably, both defeated bills were later resurrected.

Meanwhile, a House casino measure made a brief foray into the light, only to be shunted back into the corner, a tax cut for Delta Air Lines was grounded, and Republicans and Democrats bickered over their own district maps.

The campus gun bill was not the only firearm measure to meet the Crossover Day deadline; House Bill 292 and Senate Bill 99 did, too. The former would clean up existing gun laws and make it easier for anyone declared ineligible for a weapons permit for mental health reasons to petition the court to regain that right. The Senate bill also would make it easier for people with past mental health issues to buy a gun.

State Sen. Elena Parent praised the passage of SB 99.

“I’m pleased to see this common-sense public safety measure pass the Senate,” she said, “and look forward to improving it and seeing it reach the governor’s desk.”

State Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, the sponsor of HB 280, said it "allows those Georgians who choose to do so to protect themselves should the need arise."

The vote was largely along party lines. State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, the chairman of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, has long championed gun rights bills. Friday, he said he believes HB 280 meets the concerns of Gov. Nathan Deal, who vetoed a similar bill a year ago.

This bill is just another bite at the apple, he said.

“We’re not doing all we’d like to do,” Powell said. “We’re doing what we can do to advance this cause.”

Powell noted that the dire predictions never materialized after lawmakers in 2015 passed legislation that allowed guns into many other public areas in Georgia.

Democrats, however, said this bill puts firearms into the hands of 21-year-olds in a high-pressure environment.

"While we recognize and protect the Second Amendment, it is incumbent upon us as legislators to also preserve the safety of Georgians by facilitating smart public policy," said state Rep. Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville. "This bill carves out exceptions for child care centers and in sporting events. Why do we carve out exceptions at all? Every member of the Legislature who works under the Gold Dome — where weapons are not permitted — already acknowledges that there are places where guns do not belong."

State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, gave an emotional plea against the bill, recalling an incident this past summer when she was sexually assaulted while jogging near her home. The attack left her contemplating a gun purchase, but she remembered how immediately afterward she was so shaken she couldn't call 911, much less have responsibly handled a weapon.

“We’re talking about giving kids guns because we want to protect them,” she said. “But if I had a gun, that wouldn’t have protected me.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, which likewise passed a similar bill last year. The House vote was notable in that the 108 “yes” votes fall short of the 120 that would be necessary to override another Deal veto. Whether that is the bill’s future remains to be seen.

“We are having open discussions with the bill’s authors and will continue on the bill, as with all pieces of legislation where there is a willingness to work together for Georgia,” Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff, said Friday.

The Senate, meanwhile, plowed through a long list of lower-profile bills. It backed legislation to mandate that schools and child care centers in Georgia test their drinking water for lead contamination. And it passed a measure rewriting rules for building petroleum lines in Georgia.

Senate Bill 191 would limit the ability of pipeline companies to use eminent domain for surveying and acquiring private land. Companies could not use eminent domain — an involuntary seizure — unless they received a "certificate of need" from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and a permit from the state Environmental Protection Division.

The proposal comes after a joint legislative commission last year heard complaints that pipeline companies had abused the eminent domain process.

Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Michelle Baruchman contributed to this article.

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