Along with fireworks, cookouts and Independence Day celebrations, the beginning of July also brings a bevy of new laws passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor that take effect July 1.
This year’s laws range from the highly publicized, such as allowing for a vote on Sunday package sales, to the obscure, such as changing solid waste reporting regulations. Some of the laws won’t take effect regardless of the date until they clear legal hurdles, such as the Illegal Immigration Reform bill, which is tied up in US District Court, or changes to non-partisan election dates, which is awaiting U.S. Department of Justice approval.
Here are a few of the laws that residents will see in effect.
Booster Seat Laws
Children up to the age of 8 will now be required to use booster seats in cars, vans and pickup trucks. Children under 8 who are taller than 4-feet 9-inches or who have written permission from a physician about a medical condition that prevents restraining them will be exempt from the new requirement.
Currently, children up to the age of 6 or shorter than 4-feet 9-inches are required to use booster seats, which helps adult seat belts fit children’s bodies.
The first conviction for violating the law will bring a $50 fine and one point on a driver’s license. Second and subsequent convictions will bring fines up to $100 and two points against a driver’s license.
Parents and guardians can have a free check to see if the booster seat is properly installed by taking the car and seat to the Conyers Police Department or by appointment at the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute on Culpepper Drive, Conyers, 800-342-9819.
Municipally owned golf courses, such as the city of Conyers-owned Cherokee Run, will now be allowed to sell wine and distilled spirits in addition to malt beverages once SB 121 takes effect July 1.
The bill was from the Department of Natural Resources, which owns several golf courses, according to Conyers city Manager Tony Lucas. The topic had been among the local issues brought to local legislators in this year’s General Assembly by the city of Conyers.
Infeasible SPLOST projects
HB 240 provides counties and cities a way to abandon SPLOST projects via another voter referendum if it is determined that the project has become infeasible because it is impracticable, unrealistic, unserviceable, or no longer in the best interest of residents. The vote would occur at the next SPLOST referendum and the money originally set aside for the project could be used for general obligation debt or ad valorem taxes.
Other significant bills not quite ready to take effect:
HB 87, the controversial Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act, has implications in business, for both public and private employers, and for law enforcement.
Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed suit against the law in US District Court, claiming it is unconstitutional, and have asked that it not be enforced until the court has a chance to decide the matter. The state’s attorney general’s office has asked that the suit be dismissed.
Although the law may be tied up, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office is researching the requirements and preparing to be ready to train personnel should it go into effect.
Sheriff Jeff Wigington said he didn’t think it would have a large impact. “You still have to have probable cause to stop someone. They still have to violate a law.”
The cost associated with the new immigration laws would likely be minimal, said Wigington, aside from the time required.
“We’ve always been somewhat been connected to ICE. We’re in the process of applying for the 287(g)” – the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program to provide local law enforcement with the training and authority to process and detain illegal immigrants. In the Atlanta area, Gwinnett, Hall, Whitfield and Cobb counties are in the program.
Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson said the department was already checking the status of suspects involved in serious crimes.
“If we get to July 1 and it remains law, we’ll do some in-house training because we want to make sure we meet the requirements of the law but at the same time we’re fair to people that we come in contact with. That we don’t profile. And that we follow the requirements of the bill.
“I think that’s what we’ll end up doing with the immigration bill. The issues that are the most severe, that have the most severe consequences on the community, we’ll take the extra time to look at if they’ve been here legally. For the most part, we’re doing that now.”
Several bills that would affect local elections are awaiting DOJ approval.
HB 158 would move the elections for non-partisan positions, such as school board and cit council seats, to be held with the General Primary Elections instead of during the November General Elections.
HB 302 would change the date of the Primary Election to the last Tuesday in July 2012, and the Primary Qualifying period to be between May 23-25.
The length of time for early, in person voting would also be reduced, in HB 92, to 15 days. Currently, early in-person voting can be about 30-31 days.
Elections supervisor Cynthia Welch said, of waiting for DOJ approval, “A lot of these won’t take place until next year. There’s no urgency there.”
Here are some other laws coming into effect July 1:
SUNDAY SALES: Local governments may authorize referenda allowing grocery, convenience and liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays. The first votes are expected to take place in November.
ANTIFREEZE: In an effort to deter pets and children from ingesting the poisonous substance, antifreeze sold in the state must contain a bitter-tasting chemical.
ASSISTED LIVING: Senior citizens will have more options as assisted living centers are allowed to offer additional services. The change will allow some seniors to avoid being funneled into nursing homes once they are unable to take their own medications or become immobile.
BILLBOARDS: Owners may clear-cut many trees on state property blocking motorists from seeing their billboards. Only historic trees, those planted as memorials or trees that are more than 75 years old would be spared. The law also makes those who maintain obscene ads guilty of a misdemeanor with fines of up to $10,000.
MENTAL HEALTH: A new division would be set up within Georgia's court system for defendants suffering from mental illness, developmental disability or substance abuse in an effort to ease prison overcrowding by finding alternatives for some nonviolent offenders.
HUNTING: Deer and hog hunters using bait in south Georgia will be allowed to get as close as they like to their prey. They had been required to stay 200 yards away and out of sight.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Those convicted of human trafficking will stay in prison longer under a new law that increases minimum sentencing from 1 year to 10 years and adds a fine of up to $100,000 for a conviction. If the victim is a minor, the trafficker would face no less than 25 years in prison.
PRESCRIPTION DATABASE: Doctors and pharmacists will be able to check a patient's history of drug use with a new prescription drug database aimed at curbing abuses by addicts or drug dealers. Law enforcement would need a warrant to access the records.
TAX BREAKS: Georgia business mainstays Delta and Gulfstream are seeing hefty tax breaks continued. The Delta extension applies to jet fuel and will save the air carrier up to $30 million over two years. Another tax break on the sale of aircraft parts on planes repaired or maintained in Georgia applies to Gulfstream. It will cost the state $4.2 million in revenue next year. In an effort to boost tourism, Georgia will also now offer a 25 percent tax break to businesses willing to bring attractions worth at least $1 million to the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.