Legislative briefs

DeKalb sheriff opposes gun bill

DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown issued a public statement Wednesday against House Bill 512, which would widely expand access to guns across Georgia in places such as schools, college campuses and some courthouses.

“It seems that in today’s gun debates, legislators believe that if a gun owner is licensed, he is unlikely to commit a crime and is exempt from becoming emotional and using his or her weapon,” Brown said. “I vehemently disagree. Yes, licensed gun owners pass a background check. But think of how many suspects commit serious crimes as their first offense. Many of our mass shootings have been committed by individuals who have never before been charged with a crime.”

Brown joined a list of people including Gov. Nathan Deal, the people who run the state’s universities and technical colleges, and judges and school officials from across the state who oppose either some or all of the bill.

That resistance is likely to have an effect on HB 512, despite its overwhelming passage last week in the state House. Pro-gun groups have strongly supported the bill, which must now be vetted in the Senate with only seven days left in this year’s legislative session.

If HB 512 became law, people licensed to carry concealed weapons could also bring guns into all bars, churches and unsecured government buildings.

— Kristina Torres

Senate panel clears sentencing legislation

A key Senate panel Wednesday approved legislation that would give more flexibility to the state’s strict sentencing laws and help district attorneys prosecute child molestation cases.

The Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee unanimously approved House Bill 349, which has widespread support, after hearing from Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, the bill’s lead sponsor.

HB 349 would give judges limited discretion to depart from Georgia’s mandatory-minimum sentences, provided certain conditions are met in drug-trafficking cases and when prosecutors and defense attorneys reach agreements in serious felony cases. The bill also would allow certain child hearsay testimony to be presented in molestation trials.

— Bill Rankin

Panel backs changes to juvenile justice system

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved proposed changes to the juvenile justice system Wednesday after making some adjustments to address concerns of judges.

House Bill 242, which has passed the House, is designed to send fewer juveniles to state facilities for committing felonies and to divert kids who are not dangerous — especially so-called status offenders such as truants, runaways and the unruly — into less expensive community-based programs.

Judges were concerned about the potential cost and stress on staff regarding a requirement that a hearing be held within 24 hours of a status offender being detained just before a weekend or holiday, especially outside urban areas. The committee changed the bill to say that in those situations, a hearing must be held within 72 hours.

The committee also pushed the effective date of the proposed law from July 1 to Jan. 1.

— Rhonda Cook

Archives a step closer to transfer to University System

The University System of Georgia moved closer to managing the Georgia Archives under a bill the Senate Higher Education Committee passed Wednesday.

House Bill 287 would transfer the archives from the Secretary of State’s Office, where the program faced steep cuts because of lagging state revenue.

The cuts nearly resulted in the closure of the archives. Following public outcry, Gov. Nathan Deal restored funding and proposed moving the program to the University System.

The bill, which has already been approved by the full House, would transfer the archives starting July 1. The University System has already formed a task force to recommend how to handle the transition.

— Laura Diamond

Bill would let counselors commit dangerous patients

A bill that would allow licensed professional counselors in Georgia to involuntarily commit to an institution for 72 hours patients who appear to be mentally ill and a danger has cleared another hurdle.

Doctors, clinical social workers, psychologists and other health care professionals can already involuntarily commit patients who they consider to be a risk of hurting themselves or others. A House of Representatives health committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 65, which would expand that authority to licensed professional counselors.

Supporters of the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, say it would fill a critical need in rural areas of Georgia that don’t have enough mental health professionals. The lack of those professionals, they say, can put patients at risk by delaying or hindering care.

Georgia has roughly 4,800 licensed professional counselors.

— Misty Williams

House passes $19.8 billion budget

The Georgia House on Tuesday passed a $19.8 billion spending plan for the upcoming year that includes more money for schools and about $800 million worth of borrowing for construction projects.

The budget for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, now heads to the Senate for consideration. The measure passed the House 159-15.

House members approved filling holes in the state’s public health care programs and an increase in funding of a more than $200 million for k-12 schools.

About three-fourths of the new construction money would go for schools and libraries.

After the Senate votes on its version of the budget, the leaders of the two chambers will negotiate a final spending plan for the upcoming year. The General Assembly must pass a budget before ending the 2013 session, probably at the end of the month.

— James Salzer

The Tift in Tifton now seems to be a settled matter

It’s not exactly the Hatfields and McCoys, but the Tifts of Tift County finally have the right man.

House Resolution 281 formally recognizes Tift County’s namesake as Henry Harding Tift. Henry Tift was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and mayor of Tifton who played a key role in the area eventually organized into Tift County in 1905.

The recognition, given final passage Tuesday by the state Senate, corrects historical records. It originally was not Henry Tift but his uncle, Nelson Tift, who was considered Tift County’s namesake. The problem? Nelson Tift never lived in Tift County but was from Dougherty County instead.

HR 281 passed the Senate unanimously. It passed the House unanimously last month.

— Kristina Torres