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Panel waters down gun bill; State of State address is today
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Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday that he opposes a gun bill backed by the National Rifle Association that would allow employees to keep their firearms in their locked cars at work.

Bending to opposition from the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, the state Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday approved a watered-down version of the contentious gun bill. Georgia gun owners could leave their firearm in their locked cars at work. But only if they have a concealed weapon permit and only if the property owner said it was OK.

"It’s a restrictive bill," Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour acknowledged after the vote. The gun measure has pitted the state’s business lobby against the NRA. That’s placed Republicans in a bind. They’re typically loyal to both interest groups.

In talking about a previous version of the legislation, Perdue said that the Second Amendment right to bear arms trumps the private property rights of employers.

"NRA’s been a friend to me, and I’ve been a friend to them," Perdue told reporters following a speech to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the bill.

"Georgia has been a friend to (the) NRA. It’s a strong Second Amendment state. We plan to continue to do that," Perdue said. "But when we try to collide constitutional rights we really weaken both of them."

It’s a top priority for the NRA, which sees any attempt to limit where law-abiding gun owners may carry their weapons as akin to taking "a wrecking ball to the Second Amendment."

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, arguing it infringes on private property rights. The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce approved a resolution in 2007 opposing the bill, as well.

Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall chamber, said Tuesday the business organization remains opposed. The chamber’s issues committee is scheduled to meet today to discuss the gun bill and other legislation on this year’s agenda.

The controversial bill was scuttled last year in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. Some Georgia lawmakers complained that the NRA was leaning on them to vote for the measure just days after the deadly shooting.

The bill is likely to be taken up by the state Senate this week.

The legislation is modeled on an Oklahoma law that a federal district court judge tossed out, saying it violated federal workplace laws. The state of Oklahoma is appealing that decision.

The issue arose in Oklahoma after Weyerhaeuser Corp. fired eight workers for violating company policy when guns were found in their vehicles at a timber mill in 2002.

Meanwhile, Perdue gave a glimpse at some items he will propose in his 2008 budget, which he will outline today in his "State of the State" address.

Perdue has proposed parental "recruiters" to be placed at 551 Georgia schools with above average truancy rates. The goal is to engage parents and help them navigate the school system. Georgia has 2,214 public schools, according to state education officials.

"Teachers are important but nothing can replace the motivation and influence of parents in their child’s education," Perdue said.

Perdue said there is a direct correlation between school attendance and achievement, and parents need to be on board.

The governor said he would ask for $14.5 million for the recruiters as part of the state budget proposal, which he is set to unveil today.

In an interview last week with The Times, Perdue said he wasn’t going to share all of his new ideas in advance of the 2 p.m. speech.

"It’s a little like Christmas. There are going to be some things you ask for, but there will be some things in your stocking that you’re going to really be happy with," Perdue said.

On Tuesday, Perdue weighed in on Monday’s State House vote to override his vetoes of a dozen bills from 2007.

Perdue said he still believed his vetoes were valid and would watch to see what the state Senate now does.

"If this is about messages, then I hope they (House Republicans) got it out of their system and we can move on to things the state needs to address," Perdue told reporters Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the state Senate, assigned the House vetoes to the chamber’s Rules Committee. In a nod to the fresh tensions brewing between the House and the governor, Cagle joked Tuesday that his supporters had given him a referee’s jersey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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