Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson
Perhaps you were convinced, as I certainly was, that the state and county budgets were in peril and that drastic cuts in spending and benefits were needed. Perhaps you even felt, as I did, a moral responsibility to cut back on every possible government expenditure, including new equipment. After all, several Georgia counties have increased their tax rates by more than 20 percent to cover shortfalls, and Dougherty County Commissioners have gone to great lengths to avoid increasing taxes, even to the point of unpaid vacations and reduced benefits for employees.
We must have been misled. The Georgia Legislature is in a much better position than we ordinary citizens to know about our local and state economy, and yet they have come down with a new and expensive requirement for weapons carry permits that promises to triple the county’s costs in both new equipment and man-hours. If they were willing to require counties to increase costs to this degree, then we must be (pardon the pun) loaded.
The new law, first introduced as Senate Bill 308, states that ALL new weapons licenses issued after Jan. 1, 2012 shall be uniformly made, incorporating the state and county seal, secured by holographic and laser-image technology, with the applicant’s photo on a standard blue background. The new permits will incorporate both the judge’s and the applicant’s signatures.
At first I was confident that the probate judges would be able to persuade the legislators to undo this costly requirement, or at least postpone its effective date. In this I was mistaken.
Next, just as the second-grader would encourage her classmates, “Let’s all throw our books on the floor and turn our backs on the teacher at 9:30,” I tried to persuade other judges to hold off on implementing this unfunded mandate. After all, I pointed out, we’ve already been able to issue permits with the applicant’s driver’s license photo affixed, and the finished product looks quite professional. Not a single judge — to their credit, and to the credit of second-graders everywhere — would agree to violate the new law.
Recently, I attended one of the statewide classes conducted to teach probate judges how to prepare the new permits. In Dougherty County, this will involve the purchase of at least five new dedicated laptop computers, five computer-affixed cameras, five electronic signature pads, and five light-blue backgrounds. The application process will be more complicated and will involve sending the information via the Internet to a company in Vidalia, which will process and mail the cards back to us.
Permit holders will love the nifty new cards. They are equipped with state-of-the-art black-light borders, holographic images and laser security features. I am happy to be able to offer such high-tech and super-duper permits through the probate court. At the same time, it feels silly to do so at a time when all court filing fees and vital records fees have nearly doubled, and we’ve been asked to cut expenditures on every conceivable item in our office.
Unfortunate timing? You be the judge.
Nancy Stephenson is Probate Court Judge in Dougherty County.