Saturday, March 22, 2014

Final Score: Religious Gun Nuts 1, Children and the Poor 0

The Georgia legislative session is finally over.  Slow, sarcastic clapping for the old white men on their efforts, and a sigh of relief that they can't do any more damage until next January.

The good news is the "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT and other minority groups to protect their "religious rights" stalled in the wake of a massive backlash from opposing advocates and corporations.  The legislation's Republican sponsor tried to sneak the bill through on the last day of the session as amendments to two other bills before eventually pulling back due to what he called "overwhelming" opposition against the measure, specifically a strongly worded letter from the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

On the other hand, lawmakers passed the bill to expand "gun rights" in churches, provided that houses of worship first "opt in" to allow carrying firearms inside their walls. For religious institutions that decided to prohibit firearms, people packing heat in violation of that law would only face a misdemeanor, $100 fine. The campus carry provision that would have allowed guns in schools and universities was dropped from the firearms measure, but lawmakers did make it legal to use silencers for hunting (in its original form, the bill would have allowed firearms inside bars and unsecured parts of airports).  When the final "guns and god" version finally passed the House, it received a standing ovation from a handful of lawmakers, and one of the bill's strongest backers was reportedly so giddy with excitement that he fired off a round with his finger gun as he grinned toward the press box. The bill now heads to the governor's desk for final approval. 

A controversial measure was passed that will require men and women who receive food stamps and welfare benefits to be drug tested if state employees suspect they were high on anything illegal. Opponents of the bill argued that the legislation unfairly infringed upon the rights of those living on low incomes, was unnecessarily subjective, and was nothing but a recipe for profiling. A similar 2012 bill was later deemed unconstitutional and the new law may not hold up against a legal challenge either.  Even the Republican legislator who had introduced the "religious freedom" bill noted, "If we pass this bill, all we will be doing is buying a lawsuit." Although the bill should have included an amendment requiring state lawmakers to also be drug tested, it nevertheless is headed for the governor's desk for approval.  

Not surprisingly, a medical marijuana bill failed (the surprising part is that it was even considered), as did legislation to expand autism insurance to cover children 6-years-old and younger.  Another bill that would have allowed the Atlanta Beltline to tap a public-private partnership to build its transit line also failed.

So, apparently, if you had always wanted to bring your gun with you to church, the 2014 Georgia legislative session was a good one.  On the other hand, if you're poor or sick, if you could benefit from access to medical marijuana, if you have a child with autism, or if just want to see more transit options for Atlanta, the gun-loving legislature apparently wasn't much interested in helping you.  

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