By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 14, 2013
A proposal in the Statehouse loosens gun restrictions, including allowing gun owners to carry firearms into churches.
That was one bill that cleared “crossover” day, the date by which bills must be approved by at least one house of the Legislature in order to have a chance of becoming law in this session.
Georgia Catholic Conference Executive Director Frank Mulcahy is working to see what impact the gun measure would have on Catholic churches. The conference is the public policy arm of the Atlanta Archdiocese and the Diocese of Savannah.
The proposal rewrites current law, which requires a person carrying a firearm to inform a church leader and follow instructions, including removing the weapon if asked. Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor.
He said the conference is working on a response to the bill for lawmakers.
“We had not anticipated this would go forward. I don’t know how the priests feel about this,” he said.
House Bill 512 eliminates houses of worship, along with bars and college campuses, from the list of places where carrying a weapon is prohibited, he said. A person carrying a licensed weapon will not have to disclose that to anyone.
He said a church may exclude any person from its property with a firearm and the gun owner could face criminal charges. He is reviewing how that would be worked out with this proposal. But he said the bill reduces the options houses of worship have in prohibiting guns.
Another key issue for Mulcahy is the revision of the state’s education tax credit. The two Catholic dioceses established G.R.A.C.E. Scholars several years ago, a student scholarship organization (SSO) that receives contributions from donors, who are then eligible for a tax credit. The SSO then provides tuition aid to children entering Georgia Catholic schools.
A number of SSOs have been established in the state, some generating questions.
The Georgia Catholic Conference supports an increase in the state tax credit, currently capped at $52 million, but that won’t happen until questions about the operation of SSOs are answered, Mulcahy said.
Senate Bill 243, which is working its way through the legislative process, and is supported by the Georgia Catholic Conference, tightens some possible areas of abuse, he said.
It requires students to attend a public school for at least six weeks before becoming eligible for a scholarship and requires an SSO to consider a recipient family’s financial condition, donate a higher percentage of contributions to scholarships, and report the aggregate average of recipient family adjusted gross income.
“These changes improve the integrity of the SSO program and are consistent with current practices of G.R.A.C.E. Scholars,” he wrote in an email.
The conference is also watching lawmakers tackle an immigration-related bill.
He said legislators are changing the definition of “public benefits” which would require verification. The proposal would require that people seeking grants, public or assisted housing, retirement benefits, or driver’s licenses produce documents that they are in the country legally. This bill overreaches any good that could be envisioned, he said.
On other issues:
- Pro-Life/Biotechnology: A special subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee postponed further consideration until after the session to resolve questions and ambiguities. The conference will work with legislators with the goal of developing future legislation.
- Human Trafficking: Legislation that would require posting of information about a toll free number for those seeking to escape from sexual and labor trafficking as a step toward ending such trafficking passed the House.
- Abortion Funding Under Insurance Exchanges: The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee did not take up the measure.