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Greg BluesteinJim Galloway

Local angst over Georgia’s new concealed-carry law bubbles up

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 A city hall is a city hall is a city hall. Unless it’s also a courthouse, in which case it becomes exempt from HB 60, Georgia’s new concealed-carry law — which goes into effect on July 1. From the 11Alive website:

Mayor Bucky Johnson says he’s asking the city council to officially re-name the building “Norcross City Hall and Municipal Court.”

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog…The name change is significant. Under the new law, guns are prohibited in courthouses with security checkpoints. But other government buildings like city halls are not afforded the same protection.

The Norcross City Hall and Municipal Courthouse are housed in the same building. Although there are separate entrances for each and only a security checkpoint outside municipal court.

“They are undermining the intent of the law,” Jerry Henry with Georgia Carry said.

HB 60, which expands the places where permitted owners can carry concealed, is also creating some angst in Macon, where authorities say they may have to allow weapons inside the city-owned Macon Centreplex and Macon City Auditorium.

The new law says that government-owned venues that provide security don’t have to permit concealed weaponry, according to its author. We’ll let Georgia Public Broadcasting pick up the thread:

But Crystal Jones, senior assistant attorney for the Macon-Bibb County government, said the law only gives that option to “government offices.”

“Because they do not house government entities, or there are not government meetings taking place in those facilities, they don’t constitute a government building which is able to have security personnel screening everyone,” Jones said.

The same problem could affect Phillips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, she said. That stadium is owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.

Under Jones’ interpretation of the law, the problem would not affect Turner Field where the Atlanta Braves play, because the recreation authority houses its own offices there, thus qualifying the facility as a “government office.”

So this morning, we called the folks at Phillips Arena. Apparently, they’re not into hair-splitting interpretations of HB 60. The statement attributed to Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena CEO Steve Koonin:

“As has been the case since Philips Arena opened in 1999, guests are not permitted to bring any weapons, including firearms, into the facility. The Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act does not affect this policy.”

***

We’ve told you about the alliance that is quickly building in and around the state Capitol on no-knock warrants in the wake of last week’s raid on a Habersham County that left a 19-month-old toddler in the Grady burn unit in Atlanta.

Earlier this week, Gov. Nathan Deal didn’t close the door on putting restrictions on when and how warrants allowing unannounced entry by police are issued. But he sounded a note of caution:

“It’s important that we know as many of the facts surrounding this. I know that these are dedicated law enforcement officers, and certainly they feel as bad as the rest of us feel when you have a tragedy like this occur. But in order to know what if anything we can learn from it, we have to wait until the report is complete.”

He followed up on that this morning when asked about the potential proposal, saying that it’s a question he plans to refer to his criminal justice reform council. He said he was willing to weigh new restrictions but added, “I’m not there yet.”

“Just as sometimes we have a tendency legislatively to rush into things without during proper analysis, I think we have to avoid that and make sure if we do make legislative changes with regard to no-knock warrants that we’ve taken all considerations into play. We need to hear from the law enforcement community.”

His Democratic rival, Jason Carter, was less tentative in a statement issued Wednesday:

“We’ve known about the dangers of no-knock warrants for a long time. This incident in Cornelia is a heartbreaking example of what can happen, and we need to do everything we can to prevent anything like it from happening again. I continue to support the bipartisan reforms that [state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta] have proposed to limit no-knock warrants.”

***

Joe Dendy called Wednesday to spread the word that the Cobb County GOP will be hosting a one-hour breakfast debate Saturday between the two surviving GOP candidates for state school superintendent, Mike Buck and Richard Woods. The Republican party chairman said he was concerned that not enough voters are familiar with the pair, who emerged from a field of nine candidates.

The festivities start at 8:30 a.m. Here’s the address: 799 Roswell Street, Marietta, GA 30060.

***

It wasn’t on the agenda, but this morning David Perdue and Jack Kingston, the two runoff candidates for U.S. Senate,  sat before members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce gathered on St. Simons Island. Questions to both were posed by Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Chamber. We’ll see if we can get our spies to send us more info on the closed proceedings.

***

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey’s Wednesday endorsement of his congressional colleague, Jack Kingston, was standard fare – with perhaps one observation by the man from Marietta.

Gingrey said he was urged by his own supporters to endorse Kingston. Not one of his people pushed him toward businessman David Perdue, he said. “Not one. Nada. And that really influenced my decision – very much so,” he added.

***

Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue has been pressing runoff rival Jack Kingston to release 10 years of his tax returns – as Perdue has done.

At the press conference with Gingrey, Kingston said he has done so. Reporters may inspect them at his headquarters, by appointment, his campaign spokesman said.

***

The timing of the federal warning not to begin drug testing food stamp recipients came at an inopportune time for Gov. Nathan Deal. It came minutes after the Food and Nutrition Service lifted its threat to fine the state for a backlog in the food stamp process that caused thousands of Georgians to lose their benefits.

Deal’s office released a rather tepid statement late Tuesday saying he’s referred the warning letter to Attorney General Sam Olens. His rhetoric was notably different from state Rep. Greg Morris, the sponsor of the drug-testing law, who vowed the state will fight it in court. Here’s what Deal said on Wednesday:

“I have not received any word back from his office, but I expect very soon that he will give us some direction in that regard,” said Deal, who quickly shifted gears. “But I would point out on the good side of the news that we have in the food stamp arena is that now we have eliminated the backlog and we are very pleased with that so that people who are eligible to receive those benefits can receive them in a timely fashion.”

It was a dose of good news for Deal’s administration. He has ordered millions of dollars of spending to bring in extra workers, replace the call-in system and fix back-office issues that could have cost Georgia up to $76 million in administrative funding unless it cleared a huge backlog of food stamp applications.

***

Expect Democrats their own legislative response to Gov. Nathan Deal’s call to more narrowly define who can file whistleblower lawsuits.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson said he would introduce a proposal to go in the other direction. “The governor’s idea makes absolutely no sense to me,” he said. “Why would we create further restrictions on who is able to bring a case against a state agency that might be breaking our laws?”

***
The laudatory press release Gov. Nathan Deal’s office sent out Tuesday announcing his decision to suspend a scheduled gas tax increase has caused some to note its election-year timing. The governor’s office notes it sent out releases the two other times he’s made a similar decision.

“We are in a process of recovering in this state as we are all across the country,” Deal said when asked about it at a press conference, adding: “I think that an increase in the tax on gasoline would be a deterrent to that continued recovery and I think it would be the wrong timing on it to allow that to happen.”

***
It feels a little like tilting at windmills, but Public Citizen and Common Cause have sent letters to the participants in Georgia’s hottest electoral contests, urging the candidates to take a pledge to reject outside spending by non-party groups in their races.

From the press release:

The pledge is modeled after a similar agreement between then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and then-candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the 2012 Massachusetts U.S. Senate race.

The goals are to reduce the negative and often anonymous attack advertisements by groups not affiliated with the candidate, curb the staggering totals of money being poured into elections and to give people back a voice in our elections.

…It works like this: The candidates in a race who take the pledge agree that if an outside group runs a TV, radio or print advertisement, the candidate benefiting from the ad will donate, from his or her campaign account, half the cost of the ad to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice.

The recipients of the letters: Republican incumbent Nathan Deal and Democrat Jason Carter in the race for governor; Democratic incumbent John Barrow and Republican Rick Allen in the 12th District congressional race; Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republicans Jack Kingston and David Perdue in the U.S. Senate race.

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