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In brief: Georgia lawmakers seek to ease gun restrictions

Atlanta – While some states push to tighten gun control laws after the Connecticut school massacre, lawmakers in gun-friendly Georgia want to ease rules preventing some mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms.

Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses. Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.

“Simply being hospitalized doesn’t make a person a criminal or a threat,” said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, in a statement. The legislation now heads to the state Senate.

Levin says he won’t seek re-election to Senate

Washington – Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced Thursday he will not seek re-election in 2014, saying he wants to serve as Senate Armed Services chairman and an advocate for his home state of Michigan “without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.”

Levin, 78, was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and is the longest-serving senator in Michigan’s history.

Levin is the sixth member of the Senate to announce his retirement, creating an open seat for Democrats in a state that has backed President Barack Obama twice but where Republicans hold the governor’s office. Democrats, who control 55 seats in the Senate, have to defend open seats in West Virginia, Iowa and New Jersey in the aftermath of three other retirements and will try to hold on to 21 seats in next year’s elections.

The last time Michigan had an open Senate seat was in 1994 and Levin’s retirement could create a large field of potential successors.

Audit finds U.S. spends millions on unused space

Miami – Millions of square feet of wasted space in federal courthouses that have opened since 2000 are costing U.S. taxpayers upwards of $51 million a year, congressional auditors reported Thursday.

The 33 courthouses, including the Ferguson Courthouse in downtown Miami, were overbuilt by more than 3.5 million square feet at an initial construction cost of $835 million, according to the study by the Government Accountability Office. That’s enough space for nine average-size courthouses, the GAO estimated.

Rent, maintenance and operation costs account for the $51 million in extra costs each year. And that amount will keep rising.

The study was released by a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform panel that is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue today in Miami. In addition to the extra space issue, Republican-controlled House committees have been investigating surplus and empty federal properties such as Miami’s historic Dyer Courthouse, which has been vacant since 2008.


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Romney must compete in primary for Senate seat

UPDATED: 7:26 p.m.

Mitt Romney was forced Saturday into a Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah as he looks to restart his political career by replacing long-serving Sen. Orrin Hatch.