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The final hours of Sine Die
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On the last day of the 2013 legislative session, a bill that would have substantially protected and enforced the Second Amendment rights of all Georgians failed to receive final legislative approval in the late night hours. Supporters of that bill, including myself, were extremely disappointed in the outcome, but we committed ourselves to making sure a stronger Second Amendment protection bill was brought back in 2014.

In 2014, once again on the last day of the legislative session, a measure to reinforce the right to lawfully carry a weapon once again came up for a vote in the Georgia General Assembly.

However, this year was different, and the Georgia General Assembly got it right. In the late night hours, both legislative chambers approved HB 60, a comprehensive weapons carry bill that is now waiting for the governor's signature. Thanks to the efforts of a conference committee made up of both House and Senate members, a compromise was able to be reached on some of the most debated parts of HB 60.

The finalized version of HB 60 includes the following provisions:

• Prohibits the restriction of the lawful possession of firearms in public housing (unless required by federal law/regulation).

• Allows the use of silencers for hunting only on personal private property, or private property where the owner has given explicit permission for another individual to hunt with a silencer.

• Permits weapons to be legally carried in bars, but allows property owners/lessors to refuse entry or remove any person carrying a weapon.

• Weapons are banned in churches unless leadership decides to "opt-in" and allow weapons to be carried on the premises.

• Reduced fines for violators who are licensed and lawful weapons carriers.

• Allows schools to give written authorization to certain individuals who are allowed to carry weapons on school property, at school functions or within school safe zones.

• Eliminates the requirement that license holders get re-fingerprinted when renewing a license and also expands the ability for private vendors to conduct fingerprint screenings.

• Expands the exemption from several weapons carry laws for all state and federal judges, judges of probate, juvenile and magistrate courts, full-time judges of municipal and city courts and permanent part-time judges of municipal and city courts from compliance with these laws, if they are otherwise qualified to receive a weapons carry license.

There were several other prominent bills on the Senate floor during the final day of the 2014 legislative session. Although each of these bills received heavy media coverage, not all of them obtained final passage.

HB 772: This legislation requires applicants and recipients of public assistance to complete drug tests in order to receive benefits, and also requires electronic benefits transfer cards to display a photo of the recipient. Unfortunately, the fraudulent use of public assistance and other benefits is on the rise. HB 772 is meant to reduce this activity and ensure benefits are going to those who are truly in need. HB 772 is awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal's signature.

HB 697: This bill creates the Zell Miller Grant, a new subprogram of the HOPE program. The Zell Miller Grant will cover full tuition for students who achieve and maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA and are enrolled in a certificate or diploma program.

Based on current enrollment numbers, the Zell Miller Grant will cover about 16,000 students attending schools within the Technical College System of Georgia in FY 2015. HB 697 also allows taxpayers to contribute to nonprofits created by the Georgia Student Finance Commission to aid students with education expenses through Georgia income tax return forms. The funds collected will be equally distributed to the GSFC nonprofits. HB 697 will now transfer to Deal's desk, where it will await his approval.

HB 885: In final days of the legislative session, two bills related to the medical care of the youngest Georgians were combined to create the "Kids Care Act." HB 885 in its original form sought to allow further research and use of certain cannabis oils to treat children's seizure disorders, while SB 397 would require insurers to provide coverage for children up to 6 years old who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The language of SB 397 was inserted into HB 885, and the new bill was approved by the Senate on our final day. However, because the House and Senate couldn't come to a compromise, this bill was ultimately lost in the final hours of Sine Die.

I am more than ready to be back in District 51 on a daily basis. It's always exciting to spend time at the State Capitol, but there is truly no place like home. I am always happy to talk with groups in District 51 about the legislative session and specific bills, so please call my office any time if you'd like me to come out and visit your group.

If you are unable to meet with me in person, please call or email my Senate office any time with your concerns.

Sen. Steve Gooch can be reached at (404) 656.9221 or email at