New Georgia laws now in effect
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA - Many new Georgia laws took effect July 1, offering the Peach State less zoom and more boom.
The zoom might go down as Georgia motorists pay more at the gas pump. The boom might have been most evident July Fourth as the state loosened years of restrictions on fireworks sales. Both changes are among 301 new laws that kicked in with the beginning of the fiscal year.
The state's $22 billion budget began July 1, so it makes sense to start new employees and begin collecting new revenue sources. The latter will add a half-billion dollars to public-school funding, including teacher pay raises. It will pump $36 million into child-welfare reforms and additional social workers, while also putting nearly $20 million toward criminal-justice reforms.
Here's a list of the new laws most likely to affect Georgians.
The sales tax on gasoline is converted to a per-gallon basis and raised 6 cents per gallon. The law imposes a $5 nightly tax on hotel/motel rooms and a $200 yearly user fee on electric vehicles while eliminating the tax credit for purchasing them. Gone, too, is Delta Air Lines' exemption from the sales tax on jet fuel.
Local law enforcement agencies that get more than 35 percent of their budget from traffic citations within 20 mph of speed limits will have a tougher time winning court challenges. The law is designed to discourage revenue-producing speed traps.
Celebrations can now pop with the legalization of fireworks sales. They'll be taxed, and shops selling them will be inspected by local and state fire marshals.
A law passed unanimously removes a legal hurdle to financing solar panels for homeowners, small businesses and nonprofits. It allows private companies to own the rooftop panels, paying the property owner with electricity while selling the rest to the local electric utility.
Three new laws provide victims more support. One extends the statute of limitations for prosecution to the former child victim's age 25. A second extends the period a former child victim can sue a perpetrator to the victim's age 53, and a third outlaws lewd texting and e-mailing of photographs.
Among the new protections against child abuse and neglect is the creation of a statewide registry of convicted offenders along with the revision of who must report suspected abuse. The registry is expected to be especially helpful to social workers when offenders move from county to county.
Prosecutors get a powerful new tool in being able to charge suspects with racketeering for physical abuse or financial exploitation of the elderly or disabled.
Some staff from the Department of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Juvenile Justice will move to a new Department of Community Supervision where they will take over the role of supervising ex-offenders who are on parole or probation, adults and children. It was a major recommendation of the governor's criminal-justice reform commission that is expected to save taxpayers money while helping offenders stay out of trouble in the future.
The Office of Consumer Affairs is moving from the governor's office to the office of the attorney general as in most states to improve the prosecution of hucksters and cheats.
TESTS FOR PREGNANT WOMEN:
Health care providers will be required to administer HIV and syphilis tests to women in the final three months of their pregnancy. The women can refuse the tests.
Bouncers will now have to be old enough to consume alcohol, age 21. Bars will be required to report violations for serving minors or other beverage-related infractions to the Georgia Department of Revenue that oversees liquor licenses.
The breweries around the state will be able to sell admission for tours, offer free samples and sell "growlers" containing 750 milliliters of take-home beer.
Groceries that want to sell packaged beer and wine can locate closer to a school if the local government allows, but they will have to have a minimum size store. The change opened the door for a store in Douglas, but closed the possibility of a boutique grocer locating in Athens near the University of Georgia as lawmakers there had hoped.
Companies like Uber and Lyft can operate in Georgia as long as drivers are screened and insured, and local governments can't require the purchase of taxicab medallions unless they were already doing so before 2012.
The state can now issue them with black-and-white photos, and they can't revoke them for most non-driving offenses. Provisions also allow for temporary licenses in certain circumstances, like when a car fails its emissions test.
VAN SEAT BELTS:
All vehicles accommodating 15 passengers or fewer must include seat belts, and the riders must wear them. This law changes the capacity limits to include church vans and small buses.
Transporting the invasive varmints will require a state-issued permit. The law removes certain restrictions on hunting them.
Employers can now give preferences to military veterans in hiring and promoting. A separate new law protects the employment and benefits of members of the State Defense Force.
While the original proposal was a fox, the final version that became law made the white-tailed deer the official state mammal, despite its nuisance to homeowners' shrubs and highway vehicles.
The State Commission for Charter Schools must create a nonprofit foundation to accept donations that can be used to help state-charted schools.
COURT OF APPEALS:
To cope with a heavy workload, the General Assembly created three new seats on the Court of Appeals. The governor will appoint the first judges who will face election when their initial terms expire.
(Previously published in Athens Banner-Herald, Augusta Chronicle and Savannah Morning News).