By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
Last week marked our busiest yet, as our votes on the Senate floor and work in our committee meetings has accelerated in anticipation of Crossover Day, which will fall on March 15. Though this week brought with it long debates and passionate discussions, the result was successful passage of several bills that strengthen our Second Amendment rights, protect the health and safety of pregnant mothers and loosen long overdue restrictions when it comes to the use of masks by our students in schools. Additionally, the Senate passed our version of the amended budget for 2022, which is the first part of our yearly, and only session obligation required by the Georgia Constitution. We will soon begin sub-committee meetings on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
On Monday, we took up several bills related to gun rights, none more important, in my mind, than Senate Bill 319. SB 319 is known as the “Georgia Constitutional Carry Act” and, essentially, it eliminates the current license requirement for Georgians, eligible to lawfully own a firearm, to carry that weapon, open or concealed. In my opinion, the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that government shall not prohibit gun ownership for adult citizens who don’t have a criminal or mental health history and shall not infringe on the right of these gun owners, with certain limited exceptions, to possess a lawful weapon on their person, in their vehicle or at home and in public. However, over the past two years we’ve seen Georgia citizens’ ability to get a Georgia Weapons Carry License impeded when probate courts throughout the state limited public access in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ceased issuing these permits. I will always fight to defend our Second Amendment rights, and this unacceptable afront to those rights compelled me to co-sponsor and work to pass SB 319. A Georgia Weapons Carry License will still be available for the convenience of those wanting to carry a weapon in other reciprocal states and for those wanting to avoid the background check waiting period when purchasing a gun.
Along with our Second Amendment rights, I also believe in standing up for the rights of the unborn and protecting mothers. Federal regulations recently changed in response to COVID-19 to allow a pregnant mother the option to mail order, via telemedicine, a pill that will effectively terminate her pregnancy. So currently, there is no requirement to have an in-person examination by a medical professional and no requirement that a healthcare provider be present before, during or after the ingestion of this pill. This has the potential to cause irreparable harm to pregnant women and perhaps even endanger her life. Senate Bill 456 would prohibit the delivery of certain forms of abortion pills by mail and require an in-person examination by a health care professional, including an ultrasound, before such a pill may be administered. By adhering to conventional medical protocol regarding these powerful pharmaceuticals, we have the potential to protect mothers from any unintended consequences from mail order abortion pills.
Last week, we made significant progress in expanding the rights of students and parents when it comes to their education. This week, we expanded those rights further through the passage of Senate Bill 514, which would prohibit any local school personnel from requiring a student, whose parent affirmatively opts out for the student, to wear a face mask while on school property. Under this bill, schools can still impose a mask requirement for the student body, but a parent can notify the school that they object for their child who would then be excused from the requirement. I believe parents know far better than government officials what is best for their child. Furthermore, there is no clear evidence that cloth masks provide substantive protection against COVID-19 for children, and studies have shown that mask requirements for children in school have been detrimental to their education and have had a negative impact on them socially and mentally. The decision on usage of masks by students should be made solely by their parents.
On Thursday, we also passed Senate Bill 403, another priority bill of Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. A few weeks ago, the Senate Passed the LESS Crime Act, a bill which I carried, that will offer financial support to our law enforcement community through a tax credit program. One of the five eligible categories for which police foundations can allocate these funds is in support of a mental health co-responder program, which is authorized through Senate Bill 403. Under this bill, if an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis and law enforcement is called, a co-responder team composed of a peace officer along with a mental healthcare professional can be dispatched and the mental health team member can use their training to de-escalate the situation. Innovative public safety solutions like these will be key in reducing crime state-wide and will provide the appropriate response on calls involving mental health issues in order to reduce tragic outcomes.
Thursday, I also had the opportunity to sponsor Senate Bill 337, which passed on the Senate Floor. SB 337 would prohibit a local public official, suspended from office as the result of a felony indictment, from receiving compensation until their case has been adjudicated. If exonerated, their pay, including back pay, would be reinstated. We recently experienced this situation with a state-wide elected official, and I passed a proposed constitutional amendment to address this last session. If approved by voters in November, this resolution will ensure we avoid this situation in the future, potentially saving the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. I want to afford this same protection for local governments.
Finally, the Senate successfully passed House Bill 910, representing the amended budget for the 2022 fiscal year (AFY22). This budget is based on a revenue estimate of over $30 billion, and while the bulk of that number will go towards education, we are also funding important issues such as expanding nursing capacity and providing our rural main streets with the funds they need to continue to attract opportunities for growth.
Next week will prove to be busier still, as our deadline to report legislation out of committee falls on Wednesday of next week. That being said, there is still ample time for you to contact your legislators and influence legislation on issues that matter the most to you. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.
Sen. Larry Walker serves as the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. He represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bleckley, Houston, Laurens and Pulaski counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0095 or by email at email@example.com.