ATLANTA —Lawmakers expect hot button topics like gun control, abortion and religious freedom to dominate the next legislative session beginning in January.
Gun reform advocates and legislators are preparing to build on momentum from last year.
Democratic legislators proposed a flurry of gun control bills last session that didn’t reach the floor of the General Assembly although lawmakers have hopes measures still in play for this session will move forward.
Anne Westbrook, representative of the Georgia chapter of the national gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, said the group is going to “keep the pressure on” for gun control legislation — no matter what pro or anti-gun bills surface.
“Our goal is really to just be ready for whatever is going to come up and we don’t always know,” she said.
Westbrook said the organization would like to see some movement on legislation that addresses the intersection of domestic violence and firearms. Legislation surrounding the topic sparked conversation in previous sessions, she said, but is something they’d like to see carried further.
“We know that’s very important in terms of the safety of Georgia’s women and children and the safety of law-enforcement officers,” she said. “It’s a big priority for them, when they respond to those calls those are some of the most dangerous they can respond to. They really made their voices heard last year in terms of guns and domestic violence.”
Last session, SB150 — which keeps firearms out of the hands of individuals convicted of family violence crimes — made it further than other pieces of gun control legislation. State Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta, who introduced the bill, is hoping the piece of legislation will get through the floor and to the Senate rules committee.
"The hope is that we'll be able to get it through," Jordan told CNHI. "It's a really common-sense piece of legislation that law-enforcement officers are behind, district attorneys are behind and it makes sense because it saves lives."
For Republicans, Jordan said, this legislation would be an easy compromise to help build rapport with female voters — showing they are willing to pass these types of measures, even when it comes to guns.
"If I am the Republican governor, Republican's running for reelection are trying to grow our numbers in any way or keep women from crossing over to Democrats, this is a piece of legislation that would seem to make sense," she said.
State Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, introduced legislation last year to repeal a campus carry gun bill that was approved in 2017 that allowed licensed handgun owners to carry their gun on public college grounds.
Harrell told The Valdosta Daily Times she felt there was nothing more she could do to move the bill forward in the last session.
“We felt like we did everything right, but we have zero movement on the bill, not even a hearing on it,” she said. “I didn’t think there was anything we could have done. I finally talked to the committee chairman and he basically looked me in the eye and said ‘the governor said I couldn’t have a public hearing.’”
For federal lawmakers, a different approach
U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is on the front lines calling for gun control reform and is pointing at both U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson to act on gun control. McBath is an active member of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety after her 17-year-old son was shot dead in 2012.
McBath has urged both senators to sign onto legislation to increase background checks for gun purchases and support her recently sponsored red flag firearm safety bill.
But both are taking a less head-on approach to tackling gun violence. Perdue is leading an attempt to prevent violence in schools through school design. Isakson also sponsored legislation this fall to boost funding to research factors that can lead to mass shootings.
Sens. Perdue and Doug Jones, D-Alabama, introduced bipartisan legislation called the School Safety Clearinghouse Act, which would establish a database of information on “best practices for school security and design.” The database would be managed by the Department of Homeland Security.
“We think it’s a victory that a lot of people are focusing on it, even lawmakers like Sen. Perdue and Isakson who haven’t really prioritized this in the past so it’s great that we’re talking about it,” Westbrook with Moms Demand Action, said. “The focus on school design certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s not really focusing resources on what the data tells us is going to be effective.”
Funding for things such as school-based interventions and reform to gun safety laws to include background checks and red flag laws are going to be the most impactful, she said.
When asked by The Valdosta Daily Times if the school safety legislation is avoiding core gun control revision, Perdue said small steps in gun safety laws such as his school design bill are more likely to get votes than comprehensive reform.
“You have to have a lot of steps, if you do gun control and don’t do this, you’re going to fail, too. This is not just about one issue,” Perdue told CNHI on Oct. 1. “We thought about that, but if you take a comprehensive approach, it’s hard to get enough bipartisan support to get anything passed. So we carved this out, who can vote against this? Now we know we have bipartisan support for it. I think we’ll get it to the floor, tag it on a bill and actually get a look at this and then move on to the other issue.”
Perdue said Gov. Brian Kemp’s allocation of money for schools to increase their security systems caught his eye and was something he could implement at the federal level.
Last year, Kemp approved a state budget that included a one-time $30,000 school security grant for each of Georgia’s schools. Since the announcement, schools across Georgia have used the funds in different ways.
The Colquitt County School System in Moultrie settled on a $420,000 crisis alert system that sends a blast message to school staff when a threat is determined. Other schools, such as some in Dalton, have installed new security cameras, in hand with new alert systems.
However, to comply with the governor’s forced budget cuts, the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency is set to lose three school safety coordinator positions.