Gun-Rights Legislation Tops List For Sportsmen as Assembly Convenes

Guns in cars in parking lots bill moves forward. "Good" dog-fighting bill moves forward, and WRD approved for new law-enforcement positions.

GON Staff | February 1, 2008

The General assembly convened at the Capitol Jan. 14 with the governor’s “State of the State” address and the presentation of his proposed budget for FY 2009. Since then a recess and budget meetings have kept legislators tied up in Atlanta, but there was one bill affecting sportsmen that moved forward.

“The Guns in Cars in Parking Lots Bill,” House Bill 89 (HB 89), was authored by Rep. Tim Bearden and originated last year as a bill allowing firearms owners to carry firearms anywhere in their vehicle without a concealed-carry permit. Since then it has morphed into a bill with several provisions affecting gun owners, and after leaving the House last year it passed the Senate Jan. 17 by a 41-15 vote.

However, the version that passed the Senate and will now go back to the House includes substitutes that significantly weaken the legislation as it was written when it left the House.

Rep. Bearden and the House of Representatives are now charged with either agreeing with the Senate’s position on the bill, which would send it to the governor for the signature that would pass it into law, or starting the disagreement process, which would most likely end up with the bill being hashed out in a conference committee.

Here is what the bill would do if it were to go to the governor as it is now. The “guns in parking lots” part of the bill, which the National Rifle Association is pushing nationwide, is meant to protect the right of gun owners by prohibiting employers from having policies that would restrict an employee from having a gun in their vehicle at work.

“It pitted gun owners against property owners, and a lot of that got worked out in the Senate,” said Scott Tanner, a senior associate with the consulting firm Joe Tanner & Associates. “It was meant to keep employers from restricting employees from keeping a gun in their car, whether it is for protection or even if you’ve got your rifle in your car to go hunting Friday after work. My understanding of it is that the guns in parking lots part got watered down substantially.”

The bill in its most recent version only protects the rights of an employee to have a gun in a locked vehicle if it is in a publicly accessible parking lot and the gun owner is licensed to carry the gun. In this version business owners have the right to prohibit guns in vehicles on the property unless it is a public parking lot and the gun owner is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

“It’s a bastard stepchild. It’s not what anybody wants. I don’t recognize it from its original context, and the devil is in the details. I’m almost at the point where I wish we could scrap it and start over from scratch,” said Roy McClain, an advocate for several gun-rights groups. “Before all this, it was implied that you had the right to have a gun in your car. Now you have to have the permission of the property owner.”

There are other parts of the bill that gun-rights groups are happy with, Roy said. Those were borrowed from HB 915, “The Second Amendment Protection Act,” which is still alive, but has not gone to committee. HB 89 would make it a felony to bait gun dealers into selling firearms to anyone other than the actual buyer. It is meant to prevent straw buyers, like those used by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomburg in his recent attack on Georgia gun dealers. Also included in the bill is legislation that would protect the right of concealed-carry permit owners to carry firearms on state parks, historic sites and recreation areas, as well as legislation that would provide for a temporary concealed-carry permit for those who have met the requirements but are waiting for final approval.

The original section, which would allow gun owners to carry firearms anywhere in their vehicles, also made it back to the house.

• There are several issues of interest to sportmen in Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed budget for 2009.

First off, the governor has proposed $30 million in state dollars for the Georgia Land Conservation Program to acquire land. This is the same program that recently acquired 20,000 acres of forest land for three different Georgia WMAs.

For DNR, the governor has proposed a $243,890 increase in state funds for FY 2009 over what was budgeted for FY 2008; however, WRD will receive $2.8 million less from the state than was budgeted for 2008. WRD and Coastal Resources are the only divisions within DNR experiencing budget cuts in state funding greater than $1 million. Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites will see a $1.8 million increase in state funds in the proposed budget, and the Environmental Protection Division could experience a $2.1 million increase.

On the bright side, the governor’s proposed budget does allow for 22 new positions within WRD. Seven of those are game-management and fisheries technicians, and 15 are law-enforcement positions for state wildlife lands. The law-enforcement positions will replace some that were lost in previous cuts. The seven technician positions were transferred from licensing and boater registration positions because DNR has outsourced those functions to Central Bank, a private firm that contracts with more than 20 states to handle those duties.

Under the proposed budget projection, fishermen alone will generate $218 per dollar spent by the state for the Georgia economy in 2009.

• HB 301, the dog-fighting bill supported by sportsmen because of its protections for hunting-dog owners and dog trainers, received additional support recently. Sen. Chip Rogers, who authored Senate Bill 16 which was opposed by sportsmen because of its broad scope, has stepped in behind Rep. Bobby Reece’s HB 301 instead of his own bill.

“The two authors have come together and are working together to move 301 forward,” Scott said. “Chip Rogers is going to carry it in the Senate.”

• The Georgia Ranger Fraternal Order of Police will hold its “Law Enforcement Day at the Hill” rally on the Capitol steps Feb. 19 at 8 a.m. More than 100 people are expected to be there in support of DNR law-enforcement personnel. The main issue, which prompted the organization to form last year, is salaries. The organization is pushing for support from lawmakers for salary increases equivalent to those enjoyed by state-patrol officers.

• House Bill 927 was also introduced early in the session by Rep. Mark Williams. The bill would make it a felony to remove from dogs electronic or radio-transmitting collars that have the purpose of tracking or locating a dog.

“It simply makes it illegal to remove a tracking collar from a dog,” Scott said. “This arose because they have found people who removed collars from hunting dogs by following the collars back to their homes, but law enforcement can’t do much about it. This just gives them some teeth.”

GON will continue to monitor the legislative session and report on sportsmen-related bills in upcoming issues of the magazine.

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