Perdue signs law allowing guns in restaurants
Concealed weapons now allowed in parks, on public transportation
By JAMES SALZER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/14/08
Georgians with carry licenses will be able to tote their concealed guns on public transportation, in restaurants that serve alcohol and in state parks under legislation signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday.
Perdue inked the controversial gun bill on the final day for him to sign or veto legislation. He is also expected to sign a $21 billion state budget that will give 200,000 teachers and state employees 2.5 percent pay raises and is expected to sign a bill allowing auto insurers to raise rates on some coverage without first getting state approval.
The gun bill debate was among the hottest and most strongly lobbied measures of the 2008 session. Perdue said last week he expected the issue to wind up in court, no matter what he decided.
For two years, it prompted a collision of Republican constituencies, as lawmakers debated the rights of gun-owners and the ability of landowners to control their property. A veto by Perdue would have guaranteed a third year of fighting in the Legislature.
House Bill 89 was passed by the General Assembly in the final hours of the 2008 session. As in the year before, most of the debate on the measure had concerned a provision to permit employees to keep guns in vehicles parked on corporate parking lots.
Business interests, who had opposed the bill, say the legislation's language has been watered down to the point that the parking lots issue is no longer a concern.
But when HB 89 made its final appearance before both the House and Senate, language was added that expanded the list of public places where holders of concealed weapons permits could take their guns.
With Perdue's signature, restaurant patrons will be permitted to carry a firearm, but would be barred from drinking while doing so. Violations would be a misdemeanor. Concealed weapons will now be allowed in state — and by extension — local parks. Firearms in purses or under jackets will also be permitted on public transportation.
Opponents of the bill included the Georgia Restaurant Association, which argues that waiters and waitresses shouldn't be asked to demand a patron's gun permit before serving a drink. Union drivers had said they would demand bulletproof shields on MARTA buses if the governor signed the bill.
Supporters of the bill included the National Rifle Association and GeorgiaCarry.org, which argued that holders of concealed weapons permits — who submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check — are no danger to the public and might even protect the public.
While most of the bill applies only those with concealed weapons permits, H.B. 89 also relaxes restrictions on where weapons can be stored in vehicles. That portion of the bill applies to all gunowners.
The state budget Perdue is expected to approve includes about $1 billion in construction projects, mostly for K-12 schools and state colleges.
Despite a troubled economy and slowing tax collections, budget writers included $6 million in hometown grants and tens of millions of dollars more in local construction projects.
Meanwhile, House and Senate budget writers cut out $13.3 million Perdue recommended to buy buses to expand express, commuter bus service in metro Atlanta.
The insurance bill Perdue was expected to sign has been a top priority of insurers for several years. It allows companies to begin charging new rates on non-mandatory auto coverage without first getting the approval of Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
Oxendine opposed the bill. He noted that Georgia had a similar law in the 1980s that led to skyrocketing insurance rates. However, insurers and the consumer group Georgia Watch argued that there is enough competition in today's market to keep companies from inflating rates.
The governor also signed House Bill 1133, which allows Georgia residents and businesses to get tax credits when they give money to scholarship organizations that award grants to students to attend private schools.
The bill caps the tax credits at $50 million. It was seen by many education officials as the latest in a long line of attempts by Republican lawmakers to promote private schools. Supporters saw it as a way to help children escape failing public schools.
"Because of this legislation, thousands of children across the state will be able to access a quality education," said Randy Hicks, president of Georgia Family Council, which supported the bill. "For the children who will use these scholarships, there were simply no other options before today."