Standard vs. daylight time still unsettled in General Assembly

ATLANTA – A debate in the Georgia House and Senate over whether Georgia should observe standard or daylight saving time all year continues to rage entering the last day of this year’s legislative session.

The House voted 111-48 Monday to put Georgia on daylight time year-round, substituting that language for a bill the Senate passed last month calling for permanent standard time.

“Most people prefer daylight saving time over permanent standard time,” Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Canton, declared shortly before Monday’s vote.

Cantrell backed up that assertion by citing a recent poll in Politico that found Americans prefer permanent daylight time over standard time 5-1.

Even if the Senate abandons its position and agrees with the House on switching to daylight time year round, it can’t do so without congressional approval.

Under federal law, states are permitted to switch to standard time year round if they wish, and Arizona and Hawaii have made the change.

However, states must wait for Congress to act before they can observe daylight time all year.

Cantrell said if Congress approves the switch, the legislatures in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee , Louisiana and Arkansas have committed to going to daylight time, reason enough for Georgia to act.

“Georgia will be the odd man out,” he said.

Georgia lawmakers have reached a consensus on one key element in the debate: They don’t like switching back and forth twice a year.

Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, chief sponsor of the Senate bill calling for permanent standard time, has cited studies that show switching between standard and daylight time interrupts sleep patterns and, more importantly, increases the risk of illnesses including heart attacks.

Watson and other lawmakers also have expressed concerns that going to daylight time all year would put children getting on school buses at greater risk during the winter, when sunrise would occur as late as 8:30 a.m.

But the Senate appears now to be leaning toward permanent daylight time, despite having passed Watson’s standard time bill.

The Senate is scheduled to take up Cantrell’s House bill on Wednesday, the last day of the 2021 legislative session. A substitute bill approved by the Senate Rules Committee on Monday calls for Georgia to observe daylight saving time year round, if Congress decides to let states make that change.

Port of Savannah growing container capacity

The Port of Savannah is increasing container capacity at its Garden City Terminal.

ATLANTA – The Georgia Ports Authority’s governing board has approved a $205 million expansion of the Port of Savannah that will increase its container capacity by 20%.

Board members signed off on the project Monday as the port was reporting a record February. The port moved 390,804 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo last month, up 7.2% compared to February of last year.

“Right now, we are moving container volumes that we did not expect to see for another four years,” said Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director. “We are expediting capacity projects that will increase the speed and fluidity of cargo handling at the Port of Savannah.”

The Peak Capacity project will add 2,100 new container slots, enough to accommodate 650,000 TEUs of annual capacity. The work will be done in two phases, with the first opening in September.

“Georgia’s container trade has experienced unprecedented growth over the past six months,” board Chairman Will McKnight said. “The addition is among several that will address the needs of port users experiencing a sharp increase in demand, while also preparing Savannah to take on additional businesses over the long term.”

The board also approved the renovation of Berth 1 at the Port of Savannah on Monday, which will increase capacity by an estimated 1 million TEUs per year by June 2023. Altogether, the projects will bring the Garden City Terminal’s annual capacity to 6 million TEUs.

Citizen’s arrest repeal in Georgia close to clearing General Assembly

The Georgia Senate on Monday passed a repeal of the state’s citizen’s arrest law that bans people from detaining suspected criminals unless they are business owners on their private property.

Passage of the repeal bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, marked another step toward finally ending a practice in place since the Civil War that was condemned after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery last year.

Owners of Georgia businesses including retail stores and restaurants could still detain shoplifters and other kinds of thieves on their premises, as long as they hand those persons over to police officers “within a reasonable time,” according to the bill.

It would also allow police officers who are off-duty or outside their jurisdiction to make arrests if they witness a crime or have knowledge a crime was recently committed.

The repeal would not affect existing self-defense and stand-your-ground laws in Georgia that allow people to defend themselves, their property and others from threats of violence or deadly force.

“Let’s get with the times,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who is carrying the bill in the Senate. “Let’s try to prevent citizens from taking the law into their hands except for the limited circumstances we’ve set forth.”

Reeves’ bill passed by a 52-1 vote in the Senate with only Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, voting against. It heads back to the state House of Representatives for a final decision after clearing the chamber by a unanimous vote on March 4.

The slavery-era citizen’s arrest law faced loud calls for repeal after 25-year-old Arbery was shot dead in February 2020 while jogging near Brunswick in an encounter with two white men who suspected him of vandalizing a nearby house under construction.

Gregory and Travis McMichael, who are father and son, pleaded not guilty under the citizen’s arrest protections that Reeves’ bill seeks to end.

The citizen’s arrest repeal has gained broad support from Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly, as well as criminal-justice advocacy groups such as the NAACP and the nonprofit Southern Center for Human Rights.

It follows passage of a landmark anti-hate crimes bill in Georgia last year and marks the most significant piece of criminal-justice legislation to emerge so far in the 2021 legislative session that has bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Other proposals to ban no-knock warrants and boost officer training in de-escalation practices failed to gain traction after last summer’s nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer.

Georgia House narrowly approves state preemption of local control over poultry plant wastes

ATLANTA – Legislation prohibiting local governments in Georgia from regulating poultry plant processing waste narrowly passed the state House of Representatives Monday.

The House voted 92-69 to pass Senate Bill 260, just one more than the minimum of 91 votes needed to approve bills in the 180-member legislative chamber. The state Senate passed the measure 39-15 earlier this month.

The bill is a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed last year setting rules and regulations for the spreading of poultry plant processing waste on farm fields and imposing penalties on violators, Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, chairman of the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee, said on the House floor Monday.

“We have some bad actors,” he said.

The bill requires a buffer of at least 100 feet, the widest in state law, Dickey said.

But opponents said residents in several counties in northeastern Georgia who live near waste impoundments have complained about foul odors emanating from them. They specifically cited problems in Oglethorpe, Wilkes and Elbert counties.

“This is supposed to be liquid,” said Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta. “[But] sometimes, they include poultry byproducts like chicken carcasses and offal.”

Williams said the 100-foot buffer in the bill is about equal to six to eight car lengths.

“How would you feel about having this kind of smell six to eight car lengths from your front door?” she asked her House colleagues. “The smell is awful. It’s been a problem people have complained bitterly about.”

Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville, objected to the state prohibiting local governments from regulating the wastes.

“We should trust our local agricultural communities to make responsible decisions for their residents,” she said.

House Republicans came to the bill’s defense.

Rep. Steven Meeks, R-Screven, said the state Environmental Protection has been proactive in shutting down violators of the regulations

Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, chairman of the House Rural Caucus, said farmers need poultry plant waste as an alternative to commercial fertilizer, which has almost doubled in price recently.

“This bill will help our poultry industry, which is vital to this state,” Dickey said.

Because of changes Dickey’s committee made to the bill, it must now return to the Senate before gaining final passage.

Gun bill to ease cross-state carry permits in Georgia clears Senate

Legislation to loosen restrictions on gun owners who carry weapons into Georgia from out of state is close to clearing the General Assembly amid backlash from recent mass shootings in the Atlanta area.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, would allow anyone licensed to carry weapons in other states to bring their guns legally into Georgia and have their concealed-carry permits recognized.

It would also let Georgia probate judges create online application portals for weapons-carry license requests and renewals, as well as prohibit state officials from halting weapons and ammunition sales during officially declared emergencies.

The gun measure follows mass shootings at three different spas in metro Atlanta earlier this month that left eight people dead, sparking calls from firearm opponents and Democratic lawmakers in favor of tighter gun-ownership rules.

Republican lawmakers have dismissed calls to shelve Ballinger’s gun measure in the wake of the spa shootings, arguing that loosening rules on carry-permit reciprocity between states aims to bolster constitutional gun-ownership rights for Georgians and those who visit the state.

“This bill will protect the Second Amendment rights of Georgians,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia.

Ballinger’s bill passed by a 34-18 vote in the state Senate Monday along party lines. It now heads back to the Georgia House of Representatives for a final decision after clearing that chamber by a largely party-line vote in late February.

The gun measure comes as Democratic lawmakers push a separate bill filed last week to require that gun sellers wait five weekdays before clearing firearms purchases or face a felony charge with possible prison time for violating the delay time.

The purchasing delay aims to stave off future rushed purchases of guns by dangerous persons such as the suspect in the recent Atlanta-area spa shootings, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who police say bought his weapon the same day he went on the killing spree.

“Gun safety should not be a partisan issue,” said Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek. “Gun safety is a public-health issue.”

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, noting the U.S. sees higher rates of gun violence than many other countries, argued the reciprocity bill would add “more guns to our over-armed and over-weaponized society.”

“Second Amendment rights are great,” Parent said on the Senate floor Monday. “But we also need to talk about saving lives.”

Gun restrictions habitually face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled state legislature, where the Second Amendment’s right-to-carry rules rank high on the list of conservative priorities to preserve.

Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, pushed back on Democrats’ arguments that passing Ballinger’s bill would worsen gun violence, arguing that mass shootings such as those at the Atlanta-area spas are the result of mental-health issues in perpetrators that go unaddressed.

“It was a hate crime, not a gun crime,” Summers said. “Let’s not go down the gun-control road.”