Despite two recent mass shootings, including one in Georgia, the state Senate on Monday passed a gun rights bill that proponents say protects the Second Amendment freedoms of citizens.
The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans, who control the chamber, voting in favor of it.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader, Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia), said House Bill 218 reflected “Georgia’s commitment’’ to protect citizens’ rights.
Democrats, though, pointed to the recent deadly mass shootings — in metro Atlanta two weeks ago and in Colorado last week — and said there is an oversaturation of guns in the United States. “This legislation adds more guns,’’ said Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta).
The provisions of House Bill 218 would require Georgia to recognize other states’ concealed weapons permits, and would prevent a governor from taking away ammunition, other weapons like crossbows, and reloading equipment such as speedloaders or magazines, during a state of emergency.
The bill also would require local governments to hold auctions at least every 12 months to sell off weapons that have come into the possession of authorities. In addition, it would allow probate courts, which handle gun-carry permits at the county level, to accept applications for them by online methods or by mail. And the measure would bar local governments from closing or limiting the operations of shooting ranges.
House Bill 218 was among a series of health-related bills that drew votes Monday in the waning hours of the Georgia Assembly. The session adjourns Wednesday.
In a passionate speech opposing the measure, Parent cited the statistic that there are more guns in the United States than there are residents.
“Our country has an atypical problem with gun violence,’’ Parent told senators.
“We have the highest rate of deaths by firearms,’’ she said. States with lower gun ownership have fewer gun deaths, she said. “The more guns, the more gun deaths.’’
“Treat this epidemic as the public health issue it is,’’ she added.
“Second Amendment rights are great,” Parent said on the Senate floor Monday. “But we also need to talk about saving lives.”
The CDC now has been allowed to fund research into gun violence after a nearly 25-year hiatus imposed by Congress.
Senator Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek) had proposed a bill for universal background checks for weapons purchases, meaning no category of such purchases would be exempt. The day before the spa shootings in the Atlanta area, she had warned of violence against Asian-Americans, which reportedly has increased around the nation in recent months. Six of the eight people killed in the Georgia shootings were Asian women.
Since that violence, Au and other Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation to establish waiting periods for gun purchases, but those attempts went nowhere.
Au, a physician, said before the Senate took up bills Monday that “gun safety should not be a partisan issue. Gun safety is a public health issue.”
Sen. Carden Sumner (R-Cordele) responded that the mass shootings “are a sign of mental illness and pure hatred.’’
Sumner described the shooting spree in Georgia as “a hate crime, not a gun crime.”
A Columbia University study in February, though, found that mental illness isn’t a factor in most mass shootings or other types of mass murder.
The study analyzed 1,315 mass murders of all types that occurred worldwide and found that only 11 percent of all mass murderers (including shooters) and only 8 percent of mass shooters had serious mental illness.
Fight over visitations not over
The state Senate on Monday quickly — and without debate — passed stripped-down legislation on rules for visits to patients and residents in hospitals and nursing homes.
The chamber’s vote on House Bill 290 represents another volley in the conflict with House leaders over the measure.
House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) has strongly supported the original version of the bill, which would require hospitals and long-term care facilities to allow a “legal representative,’’ usually a loved one, to visit a patient or resident for at least an hour a day during an emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a Senate committee gutted that language after hospital groups spoke against the bill, saying permitting such visits could endanger the safety of patients and staff during a disease outbreak.
The House is unlikely to budge on its position on the revised bill. “This bill is probably headed for a conference committee,’’ said Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia). That would consist of members from each chamber, in a meeting held Tuesday or Wednesday.
Protections for vulnerable patients
In other health care action Monday, the Senate approved a bill that would protect people with disabilities from being denied an organ transplant they are otherwise eligible to be organ recipients. Under the bill, insurers also could not deny coverage for an organ transplant because of a disability.
The measure is known as “Gracie’s law,’’ after a child who was born with Down syndrome and with a heart defect. Her parents, Erin and David Nobles, found that she might have faced barriers to getting a heart transplant if her surgery had not proved successful.
The Senate also approved a bill that would require insurers to offer one health plan that covers pre-existing conditions if the federal Affordable Care Act, which currently requires such coverage, is struck down or undergoes major changes. “We’re drawing a line in the sand’’ to preserve these protections, said Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) in support of House Bill 509.
Senators unanimously approved legislation to require that health insurers reimburse providers for behavioral health services delivered by telehealth at the same level as for in-person visits.
And the Senate passed a measure, revised by the House, that seeks to inject some standards and transparency for “prior authorization’’ practices by insurers. In these actions, insurers decide on whether a service, medication or other doctor order is medically necessary.
“This brings accountability to this very problematic process,’’ said Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), a physician.
The House announced that its legislation providing three weeks of paid parental leave as a new benefit to full-time state employees and teachers received final passage in the General Assembly.
This new paid parental leave benefit would provide some 245,000 state employees and teachers with three weeks of paid leave upon the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child.
Earlier Monday, a tearful Newnan senator expressed his thanks for the help of government agencies and Georgians in dealing with the devastation of the tornado that slammed his city late last week.
“I’m emotional today because reality is setting in for thousands of people who have lost their homes, lost their valuables, lost pieces of their lives,’’ said Sen. Matt Brass, a Republican. “By the grace of God, we only had one death.’’
But he added in terms of the recovery in Newnan, “We’ve got a long way to go.’’