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Residents request sanctuary committee

Commissioners hear from attendees on plans for Second Amendment coalition

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County residents in favor of making the county a Second Amendment sanctuary told commissioners Tuesday that they should form an advisory committee to assist with the effort.

To comply with a referendum that county voters overwhelmingly approved in November, county commissioners and all municipal governing boards need to adopt an intergovernmental cooperation agreement — acceptable to all — creating a sanctuary in protection of gun rights.

The sanctuary also requires the governments bar the use of taxpayer resources for any measures infringing upon the right to bear arms.

Commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster discussed options Tuesday but made no specific plans for proceeding. Commissioners also spoke about keeping the proposed agreement on future meeting agendas.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Webster said she liked the idea of forming a citizens advisory committee. She told those in the audience that their input “is very important and very relevant to this entire issue.”

Erb acknowledged reservations about the potential size of a citizens committee.

“The larger the committee, the less that (normally) gets done,” Erb said.

Webster later proposed if each municipality named one representative, that would create a committee of 24 or 25. The county has 24 municipalities. If the county appointed a representative too, that would make a committee of 25.

Erb also referenced a potential inequity by mentioning Altoona’s population. It currently exceeds 40,000 and is much larger in population than of the other 23 municipalities.

Burke, like Webster and Erb, thanked the approximately 30 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting to show their interest in the Second Amendment sanctuary.

“I wish more citizens came to these meetings and gave us input,” Burke said.

Burke spoke against the idea of creating a citizens advisory committee.

“The referendum didn’t require us to set up a committee, and I honestly think that would slow down the process,” Burke said.

She proposed that the process of creating an agreement will move faster by having “direct input” by the public during the public comment portion of governmental meetings and by directing the solicitors of the governing bodies to work on “a consensus on what the language needs to be” in the proposed agreement.

She said she thought the Blair County Second Amendment Coalition has already “informally” established itself as a citizens advisory committee.

“Whatever input they want to give, I welcome that,” Burke said.

That committee, formed last year by county residents, secured more than 7,000 signatures on petitions, allowing the sanctuary referendum to be placed on the November ballot. Election records show 17,846 votes were cast in favor and 7,149 votes were cast against.

In preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners office issued a news release Friday, revealing that eight solicitors, who collectively represent the county and 24 municipal governing bodies, recently met to draft an intergovernmental agreement that could be used as a starting point toward reaching the goal of the November referendum.

The draft, attached to Tuesday’s commissioners meeting agenda posted on www.blairco.org, remains available for review. It essentially repeats the language from the November ballot and states that the agreement becomes effective upon execution by any two municipalities and each municipality thereafter.

Coalition President Bonita Shreve was among those attending and speaking during Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. She advised commissioners that a draft version of the intergovernmental referendum lacked enforcement measures and penalties.

“This resolution needs teeth,” Shreve said.

Blair County Tea Party President Rhonda Holland had the same conclusion and recommended a citizens commission be formed to work on the agreement.

“There must be a specific recourse, punishment and remedy, should it be violated,” Holland said.

Donald Corle of Frankstown Township called the draft “a decent starting point” and encouraged further development.

“I think it’s fair to say that the voters looking at the draft would be a little disappointed,” Corle said.

The Rev. Roy Steward told commissioners that he was among those collecting signatures on the petitions for the referendum. He said he sees it as protection not only for the Second Amendment but also as protection of the First Amendment and guarantee of free speech.

“This petition for our county, I see it as a safeguard,” Steward said.

When soliciting signatures, the clergyman told commissioners that he was welcomed into many homes.

“People are really concerned and really upset in our county,” Steward said. “That’s why there were so many who signed, expressing their deep desire … to have this referendum.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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