They led the way on House Bill 826, which gives school administrators authority to cut some slack for students who unintentionally bring weapons to school.
The bill, which zipped through the House 170-0 and the Senate 44-2, still says school policy on possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon is expulsion for a minimum of one year.
But it adds, “provided, however, that a hearing officer, tribunal, panel, administrator, superintendent or local board of education shall have the authority to modify such expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.”
The law also provides schools the authority to place students “in an alternative educational setting” in such cases.
That’s a long overdue change from Georgia’s zero tolerance law that mandated felony charges against students with weapons at school even if the violations were unintentional.
Two cases in Cobb last year triggered the push for legislation: Lassiter High senior Cody Chitwood forgot he had some fishing knives in his car when he parked it at school — and wham! He was arrested and charged with a felony. Ditto for Allatoona High senior Andrew Williams, who had a pocket knife in the console of his car parked on campus — another felony charge.
Only the common sense and good will of Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds kept those young men from criminal convictions. He also did research on zero tolerance laws in other states, leading up to the Setzler-sponsored bill.
Setzler said the bill “eliminates the zero-tolerance policy under Georgia law of pocket knives and similar objects on school campuses and gives school boards complete control in how to manage and bring cases against people who violate their rules.”
In short, school officials now have the discretion which they should have had all along. Zero tolerance always made zero sense.
More kudos to Sen. Tippins for leading the charge against Senate Bill 353, a really bad bill that would allow development authorities to give tax breaks for hotel and motel facilities and virtually any other kind of project in the name of economic development.
Worse, the bill would eliminate the requirement that the district attorney appear at development authority bond validation hearings and would bar any appeal from a superior court’s validation of development authority bonds.
The bill surfaced in the wake of the big fight in Cobb over a proposed school tax break for a Cumberland area project backed by developer John Williams. When it was hit by a court challenge by the school district, the application was withdrawn. Next came SB 353.
Tippins would have none of it. He said the bill had “the potential to further defund education in Georgia by extending the exemptions from paying school taxes to selected parties.” After he spoke up, SB 353 was sent back to a House committee. Good riddance, let’s hope, but be alert in 2015.