2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 1

Including the snow emergency days which had to be included in the allotted forty (40) legislative days, the Georgia General Assembly has now completed nineteen (19) days of its calendar.

Upcoming Opportunities. The Eighth Annual Catholics at the Capitol has been re-scheduled due to weather. Details on the re-scheduled day will be posted on the website as they are made available.  Participation is open to all. Details and registration information is available at the Archdiocese website at http://www.archatl.com/catholicday

Opportunities for Priests. In order to accommodate the schedules of priests, I am extending an offer to any priest who would like to come to the Capitol as his schedule permits to receive a briefing on pending issues, meet with legislators and enjoy lunch at the legislative office building. Please contact me at fmulcahy@georgiacc.org or (770) 490-4244 to make arrangements.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  We continue discussing with legislators the need for prohibiting abortion funding from insurance policies issued under the new federal insurance exchanges to the  fullest extent possible. The Affordable Care Act allows such elimination and other states have adopted similar legislation.

Gun Control. HB 875 proposes changes to the control of individual weapons in Georgia. Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Hartmayer have issued a press statement in opposition to the bill. In addition to a release to the press, I delivered the statement at a press conference in partnership with an interfaith panel of religious leaders. The Georgia Baptist Convention did not join us and has formally supported expanded weapons availability.

The thrust of the bill is that those who have obtained a carry license should not be restricted from carrying weapons except under limited circumstances.

We oppose provisions which:

    1. eliminates the long standing prohibition of weapons in houses of worship and eliminates the prohibition of weapons in bars. In the future, houses of worship and bars would have only the same rights as other property owners to request that those possessing weapons leave the premises.
    2. makes carrying weapons on public college campuses a civil offense with a fine of  $100.00.
    3. expands the scope of those who may be authorized to carry weapons in a school safety zone, at a school function or on a school bus.
    4. permits carry concealed weapons in all public buildings unless those buildings have security procedures operated by certified peace officers. Unless certified peace officers are present, concealed weapons will be permitted in public libraries, senior centers, recreations centers and the like.
    5. permits issuance of weapons licenses to persons under 21 years of age who have had military training and are currently on active duty or have been honorably discharged and allows a carry license even if a person has been convicted of previously pointing a gun at another in violation of criminal law.
    6. provides an “absolute defense” for any person in defending self or others whether or not that person has a carry license.
    7. prohibits creating or maintaining a database of weapons carry license holders.
    8. specifically does not require that school boards and administrators adopt any policy governing weapons usage in schools. Documentation of license holders authorized by a school are exempt from public disclosure.
    9. prohibits all local regulation of gun shows, possession of firearms and weapons, or firearms and weapons dealers. Any person may bring a lawsuit against local governments that violate this prohibition.
    10. prohibits Stare government restriction on possession of any weapons even in case of national emergency.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security recommended passage of the bill and the bill will likely be debated in the House of Representative in the next few days.

Statute of Limitations Expansion. HB 771 proposes to make the statute of limitations for various forms of child abuse unlimited. Under the proposal, a civil claim for damages from child abuse may be brought at any time in the future. Currently, such claims can be brought no later than five (5) years after the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age. The proposed change would apply only to abuse that occurred after June 30, 2014.

Religious Liberty. Senate Resolution 808 proposes a constitutional amendment ostensibly intended to prevent application of foreign law in Georgia jurisdictions. This legislation appeared as a bill in 2012 and is supported by several conservative religious groups because of their fear that Georgia courts will adopt Islamic Sharia law principles. We opposed the bill in 2012 because it is so broad that it could preclude application of our Canon Law in many unknown situations as well as the laws of other religious denominations. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League will oppose the legislation as interfering with their religious laws. We have a particular concern in Georgia because Georgia law related to property ownership by religious institutions incorporates the directives of church law in defining ownership. The Episcopal Church in Georgia recently had lengthy litigation over ownership of a church building in Savannah and relied on this statute. We will oppose the constitutional amendment as unnecessary.

Parental Choice in Education. We continue to support school choice with emphasis on the continued viability and expansion of student scholarship organizations (SSO), such as G.R.A.C.E. Scholars. The program is so popular with taxpayers that the contributions up to the $50 million state-wide annual cap for all organizations was reached after only 22 days! HB 7was introduced to increase the cap to $100 million.

New Americans Act. SB 312 would require the Department of Human Resources to identify and assist legal immigrants in obtaining citizenship through the naturalization process. Much legislation in the past has targeted immigrants with penalties in the past bill this is an affirmative bill to help those eligible for citizenship to obtain their goal. We support the purposes of this bill as a positive step toward welcoming those from other countries.

Child Testimony. HB 804 proposes to allow children under 18 years of age who are victims of violent crimes to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. This type of legislation has passed in other states to make prosecution of violent criminals more feasible for young victims.