Georgia laws of note that took effect July 1 include:
•A bill to strip bonuses from teachers found cheating on standardized tests.
•A bill eliminating the $1 charge for the optional “In God We Trust” decals for car license plates;
•New procedures to label a dog as vicious. If so, the dog can be ordered to be destroyed. If not, the owner must keep the animal locked in a pen or on a short leash with a muzzle. The owner must also post a $50,000 bond and may only own one vicious dog. If there’s a second attack, the owner is subject to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison.
•To diminish theft of wire, companies that buy scrap metal must check the seller’s ID and see a receipt for the metal or contract work order’s for its removal. Digital photos of sellers must be kept on file, and payouts cannot be made on the spot.
•It is now against the law to point a laser at an aircraft or law enforcement officer. It is also illegal to intimidate an officer or file a bogus lawsuit against once. Local governments can no longer enact ordinances limiting the possession, sale or making of knives that are more stringent than is state law.
•Anyone under the age of 21 who is suffering from a terminal illness can get a hunting license for free. A one-day, saltwater fishing license is also available for $5 as a convenience to tourists. Commercial crabbing licenses are limited, but those who have them can sell them to family members.
•Legislation that will increase the number of barrels brew pubs could produce from 5,000 to 10,000. The bill also increases from 500 to 5,000 the number they could sell to wholesale distributors. Supporters said the law addresses the growing popularity of craft beers
•Liquor tasting will be allowed at Georgia distilleries, but limited to half an ounce per person, per day. The state’s few distilleries can conduct free promotional or educational tastings, and the move could help boost tourism.
•The legislature tripled the number of days boaters may live on their boats while in a saltwater marina or mooring field. It is also a crime to operate a boat in areas posted as off limits by the Department of Natural Resources.
A host of new laws took effect July 1 in Georgia, including a major overhaul of the jury selection process.
The new law expands local jury pools to include every citizen who is at least 18 years old and either votes or has a driver’s license.
Before, the state’s jury commission picked the pools to match a county’s demographics in the latest census data in a process called forced balancing.
“For more than 200 years, the law stated that only the names of persons deemed by jury commissioners to be the ‘most intelligent, most experienced and most upright citizens’ of the county were placed in the grand jury pool.
The new language reflects the realities of modern society,” said Clerk of Superior and State Court Ruth Wilson. “We will draw names from the certified pool for Rockdale in a totally random manner, thus assuring a representative sample of eligible jurors.”
Prior to the change, Georgia was the only remaining state that required “forced balancing” of jury pools, according to Wilson. This meant that jury pools were created by county jury commissions to ensure that the pools were not skewed according to gender or race.
The new law also allows grand jurors to be picked from the same pool as trial jurors.
Grand jurors decide whether prosecutors have enough evidence to take a case to trial.
Until now, grand jurors were chosen based on their standing in the community, having to pass background checks before serving.
Sweeping changes to Georgia’s criminal justice system that, among other things, will enhance the role of accountability courts are also beginning to take effect.
After signing the bill in May, Gov. Nathan Deal said, “This will pay dividends to taxpayers over and over, from the reduced cost to our prison system to the increase in the number of people who return to the workforce and support their families.”
Deal, a former judge, championed the legislation as a priority, sought to provide alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders while reducing soaring prison costs. The Judicial Council of Georgia will spend the next several months establishing standards for state drug and mental health courts.
Sentencing changes for theft, shoplifting and forgery also took effect July 1.
Out-of-work Georgians also will soon see their benefits slashed nearly in half.
This session, Republicans argued that the state needed to find a solution to begin repaying more than $760 million borrowed from the federal government in recent years to cover Georgia’s unemployment benefit payments when the state’s trust fund was drained during the prolonged recession. The answer was to reduce unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to a sliding scale of between 14 and 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said now is the responsible time to act with the unemployment rate declining.
“The best way to help the unemployed is to create jobs in Georgia, and that’s where Gov. Deal’s focus is,” Robinson said. “It’s important to note the safety net is still there, but we had to reform the system or it would have collapsed — that’s the worst outcome for Georgians in need.”
The state’s unemployment rate has remained above the national average for months.
Another new law will require some people applying for welfare to pass a drug test, but it is likely to face a court challenge. Opponents say they will likely pursue a lawsuit, but not until the measure is actually put into practice.
Courts have struck down similar laws in other states, but supporters in Georgia have expressed confidence that the law here would be upheld.
The Gainesville Times and Kaitlyn Spotts contributed to this article.