Top Republican state lawmakers line up behind hot-button culture war clashes

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

By Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
February 7, 2022

The powerful Republican Georgia Senate Majority Caucus legislative priorities for 2022 include dismantling license requirements to own firearms and banning so-called critical race theory from public school classrooms.

The lightning-rod legislation is on the move in the 2022 General Assembly with Crossover Day – a key deadline for a bill to clear at least one chamber – about a month away. And top Republican officials including Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s willingness to lend their muscles could go a long way turning the bills into law.

As early as next week, the Georgia Senate could take up Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte’s permitless carry bill that’s signed by more than 30 Republican senators.

Duncan and Ralston have said they’re open to considering legislation that would eliminate the requirement for Georgians to have a gun license. With overwhelming support from the Senate GOP caucus and Kemp, it appears that there are more than enough votes to pass the law dubbed “constitutional carry” by Republicans.

“This session, I’m encouraged by the common goals that have been previewed by the members of both chambers,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican. “I have no doubt that we’re going to find common ground on several key priorities, like protecting our Second Amendment right by passing a constitutional carry (bill).”

Democrats and firearm safety activists opposed to weakening gun laws and removing the fingerprinting and background checks required to buy a gun have roundly denounced permit-less carry efforts.

Georgia residents can carry long guns and shotguns without a permit but must have one in order to legally carry loaded handguns in public.

Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said Republicans should focus more on gun safety than making it easier to carry guns.

“The reality is the statistics suggest that if you have a gun in your home, you are more likely to injure your loved one or yourself than an intruder,” he said at a House Minority Caucus legislative preview briefing. “The reality is that you need more training on how to store guns. We don’t need more people just randomly carrying it.”

This session will be dominated by gun rights legislation, but so will the discussion of what can be taught about race in schools and whether parents should be able to protest curriculum, books, and other materials.

Kemp also unveiled last week his parents’ bill of rights proposals that would mandate school officials must provide parents instructional material within three days of their request.

The House version of the bill would allow parents to then object to the lesson plans, let them pull their children from sex education curriculum and limit the type of health records retention that schools can maintain on students.

“This initiative is all about transparency and parental involvement in their children’s education as parents have the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children,” said Rep. John Carson, House Bill 1158’s sponsor and a Marietta Republican. “As radicals sacrifice academics and achievement and instead focus on demographics and racial differences, parents need transparency in the school curriculum and the ability to file complaints that lead to resolution.”

Kemp said it’s dangerous for public schools to incorporate lessons on race-focused studies and other concepts that might make white students feel guilty about slavery and segregation. Teachers and other educators agree that critical race theory is not a concept taught in Georgia’s public schools.

Kemp’s floor leader Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican, is promoting Senate Bill 377 that would prohibit colleges and local schools from teaching subjects that could be considered discriminatory and also create a path to allow parents to formally object.

That legislation has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee that is scheduled to meet on Monday, although no agenda is publicly available yet.

“While banning CRT might be the most straightforward approach, it’s necessary to better define exactly what it is we are trying to stop,” Hatchett said at a briefing on legislative priorities. “For example, if you, as a reporter, call a local school board and ask about CRT, they will likely respond with a definitive answer: ‘We do not teach critical race theory in our schools.’

“But in some cases, that’s like saying they don’t teach mathematics while knowing they do teach addition, subtraction, multiplication and division,” Hatchett said.

Ralston said the problem is parents feel they aren’t welcome in the educational decision-making process.

“I think the important thing about critical race theory is it really is tied to the whole issue of parental control, and how much influence parents have over their over their children’s education, whether it’s curriculum, whether it’s books, obscene literature,” he said during a Jan. 25 appearance on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Political Rewind.

Duncan, however, has not come out publicly in favor of having the state take further control over curriculum, in what’s become a highly politicized issue.

“I’m one of those that believes that many of those decisions need to be made at the local level. But certainly, there’s opportunities and there’s gaps and we want to make sure that we’re delivering high-quality education that doesn’t have any sort of political slant,” Duncan said.

The House speaker assigns favored legislation to committees that can usher bills to a floor vote, and with about 20 years in the Legislature, he has enough political capital to push legislation through his chamber.

While he has not officially endorsed Kemp, Ralston has been effusive in his praise as the governor is headed for a heated Republican primary election against former Georgia Sen. David Perdue, who wields the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

Duncan is not seeking a second term as president of the Senate, instead saying he’s going to focus his efforts after leaving office on the GOP 2.0 movement that aims to move the party beyond its loyalty to Trump.

Charles Bullock, University of Georgia professor of political science, said Democrats don’t have enough votes to block regular Republican legislation, so the success of GOP proposals is all but guaranteed when the governor, caucuses, and chamber leaders are in agreement.

“With this being an election year, you can count on some of the things to move ahead on agenda like CRT or something really new like this parents’ bill of rights,” Bullock said.

Some Republicans are pushing for a ban on transgender girls from joining girls’ sports teams in public schools, but alignment among Republican leaders isn’t as clear as with other culture war issues.

In his State of the State Address, Kemp called for fairness in school sports, and Sharpsburg Republican Rep. Philip Singleton, an original sponsor of a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from girls’ sports, has expressed optimism that the legislation will pass this year.

Ralston said last year that the measures were extremely divisive and unnecessary, since local school systems have their own politics on the issue.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.