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When the Georgia General Assembly was gaveled into action earlier this month, hope was that a lightning-quick session would focus on high-priority legislation and fewer of the usual “hey look at me” proposals that often clog progress under the Gold Dome.
For the most part, that’s been the case. The most important bill signed so far is one that was expected: The move of the state primary from July to May 20 to match the federal primary date.
There was no choice there. After a federal judge ruled last year the state must allow at least 45 days between an election and runoff to distribute, collect and count overseas ballots, Secretary of State Brian Kemp moved the federal primary for congressional offices to May 20. Keeping the state primary in July could have sent voters to the polls four times to set nominees for the Nov. 4 ballot, which would have been inconvenient and costly.
With the primary date set, lawmakers are in a hurry to breeze through the 40-day session so they can start campaigning. State law prohibits them from raising money during the session, so they won’t be spiking the ball to stop the clock very often.
With that compressed calendar looming, legislators need to zero in on serious matters. To their credit, a midyear revised budget already has been passed by the House. Ideally, they’ll do the same with the 2015 fiscal budget and avoid the usual end-of-session rush to get it passed.
All in all, a good start in those areas. Yet it’s inevitable some bills of lesser importance will be pushed along to get the attention of voters and certain special interests.
We wonder, for instance, why lawmakers continue to focus on a bill addressing where Georgians can legally carry firearms. Thursday, a provision to allow guns on public college campuses was removed from a bill, for legal reasons; the sticking point was whether college presidents could be allowed to “opt in” and allow weapons. Never mind that few likely would do so, the Board of Regents opposes it and three-quarters of Georgians polled think it’s a bad idea.
The new version of the bill still would allow school districts to arm employees and lock up weapons for such use, and would limit guns for those with mental illness, both reasonable reforms. The bill could allow high-powered rifles on campuses to be used by security personnel, which has been proposed in Gainesville.
The push to allow weapons in churches and places of worship remains in the discussion; in recent years, another proposal would have allowed them in bars. And again, few likely would take that step for reasons of both safety and liability.
If the goal is to help prevent the kind of public shootings we see on the news — which, thankfully, still are quite rare — arming security personnel and increasing their presence is a better idea than letting everyone pack heat. Putting more guns in the hands of those trained to use them is the wiser course.
We agree knee-jerk moves to tighten gun laws after such tragedies are closing the barn door too late, aimed at preventing crimes rather than punishing lawbreakers, and mostly wishful thinking.
Yet there’s also no hue and cry to make more guns available more places by the public at-large. As always, it’s the loudest voices from the polar extremes that tend to drown out common sense.
We’re all for sensible gun liberties, but new laws aside, it’s worth noting we already have a legal protection for the right to bear arms: the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite debate to the contrary, it continues to supersede all attempts to prohibit Americans’ ability to reasonably possess, use and carry weapons.
So why are lawmakers preoccupied with guns instead of more important priorities? Two likely reasons. One, the gun lobby is powerful and influential, and lawmakers seek its money and support.
And two, it’s an election year, when officeholders play to voters with those “hey look at me” hot-button issues aimed more at gaining political attention than solving real problems.
Gov. Nathan Deal has remained above the fray, but summed it up well in a recent interview: “When you get to the real philosophy behind all of it, the question is whether government in any form or fashion has the right to make those judgment calls, or does the Constitution speak for itself.”
We believe the latter. Let’s trust the Second Amendment to do its job; it isn’t going anywhere, and it protects our rights just fine. And while some states are more restrictive, that isn’t much of a danger in Georgia.
But Republicans in the majority aren’t the only ones piddling away on trivial matters under the Gold Dome. State Democratic leaders laid out an ambitious agenda they say supports middle-class and working families by narrowing the income gap, doubling the minimum wage and increasing Medicaid funding.
It all sounds rather kumbaya, except when taxpayers are handed the price tag for such moves. And of course, none of it will happen as long as Democrats remain out of power. It’s their way of playing to their own constituents with phantom goals that will never see the light of day beyond a press conference.
In reality, doubling the minimum wage wouldn’t do much to help the middle class. Instead it would only make it harder for their teenagers to get summer jobs, and likely make everyone pay more for hamburgers and hotel rooms.
And as Deal has repeated, the state doesn’t have the money to expand Medicaid coverage right now, however desirable that may be. In the short term, alternative funding methods should continue to be a goal for both parties to work toward. Good intentions are fine, but they have to be based on reality or nothing is accomplished.
For the most part, we’re glad to see the legislative session conducted at a brisk pace with a focus on worthwhile issues. The usual song-and-dance bills still are going to crop up, though, especially in an election year. Let’s hope they don’t take up any more time than they already have and derail efforts to pass a short list — a very short list — of meaningful reforms to address real problems.