New anti-abortion bills, gun safety legislation among long-shots as lawmakers reach key deadline

By: and - March 6, 2023 1:00 am

Georgia Right to Life President Ricardo Davis, right, leads a demonstration outside the Georgia Capitol. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

They can’t all be winners.

Monday is Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other without extreme legislative maneuvering. Many measures will be left in the dust when time runs out, despite the earnest efforts of politicians, advocates and lobbyists. 

Other bills – like proposals for more abortion restrictions as Georgia’s law is being tested in the courts and, on the other end of the political spectrum, gun safety measures – appeared to stand little chance from the start. 

But dim legislative prospects didn’t stop champions for those causes from trying. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court upended the federal right to abortion access, anti-abortion advocates were eager for Georgia to go further than the six-week ban passed in 2019 when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. This session was the first one held since Roe was overturned last summer. 

As the days before Crossover Day ran short last week, a group of protesters from a coalition of anti-abortion groups showed up at the state Capitol to call out Marietta Republican Rep. Sharon Cooper, chair of the House Public Health Committee. 

The group of ultra conservative activists tried to press Cooper to hold a vote on a bill that would extend legal personhood to a fertilized egg, effectively banning all abortions. Currently, state law grants personhood to a fetus at about six weeks.

Georgia Right to Life President Ricardo Davis called on the 20-plus protesters assembled to try to speak with Cooper.

“What we are here to do is, as citizens, in particular as constituents in her district, we are appealing to her to allow the people’s voice be heard and allow the representatives to vote on the legislation,” he said.

Cooper has said previously that lawmakers should “sit back and wait and see” what the state Supreme Court does before considering more abortion-related policies. House Speaker Jon Burns has said the same. A court hearing is set for later this month just as the session wraps up. 

Democrats, for their part, came into the session ready to push for a repeal of Georgia’s six-week ban. They filed bills in both chambers early in the session, just days after what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and vowed to keep the issue on the frontburner. Those bills have not received a hearing. 

Atlanta Democratic Rep. Shea Roberts, the bill’s sponsor in the House, rejected predictions that Democrats would spend this session playing defense on abortion. 

“We will not play defense on this. We’re going to stay present and make sure that they know we are not going away because it’s too important,” Roberts said shortly after filing her bill in the House. 

Rep. Shea Roberts (far right), Democrats and abortion rights advocates held a press conference in late January to unveil a proposal to repeal Georgia’s six-week abortion ban and protect access to the procedure. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Gun safety advocates push modest reforms

Folks in red Moms Demand Action t-shirts have been a regular sight in the state Capitol, calling on legislators to back measures they say will reduce gun deaths.

Rep. Michelle Au, a Democrat from Johns Creek, has been at the forefront of the effort, sponsoring bills aimed at instituting universal gun sale background checks and three-day waiting periods for gun purchases, as well as making it a misdemeanor to leave a firearm where a child can access it. 

Au announced on Twitter Thursday she had reached a “handshake deal” with House Public Safety Chair J. Collins that he would hear the gun storage bill sometime this session. “We’ll announce the date and time of the hearing as soon as Chair Collins schedules it,” she said. “We thank him for his promise to us, and encourage our gun safety advocates to get ready to bring your voices back to the Capitol when we finally hear #HB161. It’s been a long time coming.” 

Rep. Debbie Buckner. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

One bill that did receive a last-minute hearing Friday would create a process for someone to show they are healthy before having their right to own a firearm restored. Today, someone can be involuntarily committed for mental health treatment and then have their rights automatically restored after five years. 

The bill, sponsored by Junction City Democratic Rep. Debbie Buckner, found bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee but not enough to overcome a push from Cedartown Republican Rep. Trey Kelley to keep the automatic reinstatement after five years in state law.

Opponents labeled Buckner’s bill a “red flag” proposal, a reference to laws that restrict a person’s ability to possess a firearm if they are found to be a danger to themselves or others.

But Buckner – a rural lawmaker and gun owner – countered that her bill expands a person’s rights since they could potentially regain the ability to own a firearm sooner if they can show they are well. And she argued conservative lawmakers “red flagged” her bill by keeping the five-year window intact.

Opponents questioned whether the proposed reinstatement process would put a burden on someone’s constitutional rights to bear arms. Buckner’s proposal comes one year after lawmakers did away with Georgia’s requirement to have a concealed carry permit. 

Her bill was tabled in committee Friday. Buckner said afterward she wasn’t optimistic about her bill’s chances of making it to the House floor Monday, but it would stay live for next year, the second year of a two-year legislative cycle.

“I do feel that it’s almost like a ticking time bomb, that we are so blessed in Georgia that we haven’t had a horrible, terrible situation and I hope that holds until we do figure out a way to get it right,” Buckner said Friday. 


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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.