In the Georgia Legislature, even a relatively simple bill can turn into one of the most important pieces of legislation that is considered.
Such was the case of House Bill 60, which was passed out of the House in 2013 but did not make it through the Senate that year and, therefore, was taken up by the Senate again in the recently completed 2014 session.
In its original form, HB 60 dealt only with the carrying of firearms by current and former state and federal judges. However, by the end of the 2014 session, it had evolved into one of the most comprehensive expansions of gun-owner rights for law-abiding Georgia citizens in recent memory.
After being passed by the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee with some minor changes, HB 60 passed the Senate by a vote of 47-4. Because of the minor changes made to the bill in the Senate, HB 60 was sent back to the House for approval.
That’s when the bill got more interesting.
Although the House agreed with the Senate’s changes to HB 60, it also added much of the language of another gun bill, HB 875, that had previously passed the House but had not passed the Senate. HB 875, a much more comprehensive gun bill than HB 60, contained provisions relating to carrying weapons in churches, bars, airports, schools and government buildings.
Among the provisions that were added was allowing weapons to be carried in bars, including parking facilities of bars — providing, however, that property owners and leasers of bars can prohibit them if they so decide.
Also added was the prohibition of carrying weapons into restricted-access or security areas of commercial airports. However, license holders who violate this now have the opportunity to immediately leave the area with their weapon without being prosecuted.
Approval for the carrying of weapons by license holders in government buildings where the building is not restricted or screened by security personnel during normal business hours also was added.
It is important to note that one of the key provisions that the House left out of the final version of HB 60 dealt with carrying weapons on college campuses. Originally, the House had dropped the fine for carrying a weapon on college campuses to $100, but this was left out of HB 60 when it was sent back to the Senate.
When HB 60 was returned to the Senate on Day 39, two more amendments were added and agreed to.
The first amendment allows silencers and suppressors to be used for hunting on private property, either owned by the hunter or with permission of the owner, and on public lands in areas designated by the Department of Natural Resources.
The second amendment prohibited weapons from being carried in churches or places of worship unless the church or place of worship approves license holders to carry weapons inside. This often is referred to as an opt-in provision. Unless the church or place of worship posts that it is approved to bring guns into their buildings, then it is understood that it is illegal.
After the Senate agreed to these amendments, HB 60 passed the Senate and was sent back to the House.
Finally, after first being introduced Jan. 15, 2013, and having been through six votes of the full Senate and House and countless committees, at approximately 11:11 p.m. on Day 40 of the 2014 session, HB 60 was passed by a vote of 112-58 in the House.
The bill now awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109. Connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.