Georgia's Republican governor on Tuesday issued his final 16 vetoes of legislation passed this session by the GOP-controlled legislature, most notably breaking with his party over a controversial measure that would have allowed firearms on college and university campuses.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who last month vetoed a religious liberty proposal that, he said, contained language which "could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination," blocked no fewer than 17 bills this year, the largest number since moving into the governor’s mansion in January 2011.
Those measures include House Bill 859, which would have amended school safety statutes barring the open carry of firearms on state college and university campuses, and HB 779, which would have created a state-level regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft that the governor believed could eventually conflict with pending federal rules.
Here, a look at this session's most marquee/contentious bills passed by the legislature but nullified by the governor:
- Veto No. 1: HB 757, The Free Exercise Protection Act, was a religious liberty bill that drew withering criticism nationally from gay rights activists and corporate interests, would have granted faith-based organizations the right to deny critical services on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief. The bill’s supporters contended that it was necessary to prevent the government from punishing people of faith who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. The week that followed its passage was punctuated by announcements from major corporations that they would not operate within the state if the governor approved the bill. In an uncommonly swift move, Deal, only days into the bill review period, vetoed the measure, stating that the realm of religious liberty is best left to the First Amendment of the Constitution.
- Veto No. 8: HB 779 would have created a state commission to regulate drone activity, banned weaponized unmanned crafts and preempted local ordinances. In his veto statement on Tuesday, Deal expressed concern that the statute could ultimately conflict with regulations currently under consideration by the Federal Aviation Administration. In the interim, the governor added, he will create, through executive order, a commission that would be charged with setting temporary guidelines until such a time as FAA regulations are released.
- Veto No. 9: HB 859 (the "Campus Carry" bill). State college and university campuses are statutorily gun-free zones. HB 859 would have permitted licensed owners of firearms to bear arms on the grounds of a public postsecondary institutions. The legislation, which was opposed by academic groups and the state Board of Regents, carved out four exceptions: Guns would still be verboten inside dormitories, fraternities, sororities and at sporting events. Deal explained on Tuesday in a lengthy statement that colleges and universities are "sanctuaries of learning" that have been free of firearms "from the early days of our nation and state." He added that the General Assembly's interest in preventing the commission of crimes at college would be better served by stiffening the penalties for unauthorized possession of firearms on campuses.
At the same time, the governor signed into law dozens of bills Tuesday, including legislation to expand service members' access to postsecondary education; provide charter school board members the support and training necessary to ensure sound fiscal management; change teacher evaluation metrics and state testing requirements; and allow the possession and use of non-lethal electronic weapons (i.e., stun guns) on public college and university campuses.