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New laws are now in effect


Each year, on July 1, new state laws and amendments passed by the General Assembly go into effect, and this year was no exception. So, as of Sunday, if an officer of the law pulls you over one hot  Summer  day for breaking a law you didn’t know was a law, if you say you didn’t know you broke the law, the officer is probably going to respond with: “Ignorance is no excuse, take this ticket and call the courthouse in the morning.”

To comply with Georgia’s new Hands-Free Law, which went into effect on July 1, you’ll need to either use speaker phone or a bluetooth device to talk on the phone while driving. If a law enforcement officer sees you with a phone raised to your ear, you’re going to have to talk to a judge. If it is your first offense, you’ll need to show the judge a receipt for a hands-free device. If you don’t have one or it is your second offense, you’re going to pay a fine. You can touch your phone to make a call and use your Waze, but otherwise it’s the hands-free life for you.

Even though everyone should know about Georgia’s new Hands-Free Law that governs cellphone use by motorists, it was not the only new law that went into effect on Dunday, July 1. Additional new Georgia State Laws include:

House Bill 65 - expands the legal use of medical marijuana in Georgia to include those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and “intractable pain. The law specifically defines ‘intractable pain’ as being “pain that has a cause that cannot be removed and for which, according to generally accepted medical practice, the full range of pain management has been used for at least six months without adequate results or with intolerable side effects.”

Georgia’s first medical marijuana bill was passed by the General Assembly in 2015 and covers more than 15 other medical conditions. Anyone who falls in those categories may apply for a low THC oil registry card, which permits qualified people to have up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil, which is derived from the cannabis plant.

Georgia’s law is far more limited than other states like Colorado and California, in that it does not legalize the sale or possession of marijuana in leaf form. Retail establishments in the state of Georgia are not permitted to sell marijuana or items produced from the cannabis plant. Physicians in Georgia are not permitted to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes as they are in some other states.

To apply for the registry card, an application is sent by the physician treating the patient. There are two forms tied to the application, including a waiver form signed by the applicant and the physician, then a physician certification form which is submitted to the state.

Once approved, patients are contacted by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to determine which of the state DPH offices is most convenient for picking up the card. The fee for a new card is $25, and is valid for two years following the date of issue. 

The state does not regulate or provide information where individuals can purchase low THC oil. The law only creates a means so that qualified people are not prosecuted if they have it in their possession. Full-scale sales and use of marijuana remain illegal in the state of Georgia.

You won’t be taking MARTA in Atlanta anymore. This won’t happen immediately on July 1, but at some point in the near future, MARTA will be getting a new name. The transit system is going to be re-named The ATL. In addition, a regional transit commission that covers thirteen metro-Atlanta counties will make decisions about regional transit options. If you have out-of-town guests, navigating metro Atlanta’s transit options should become a lot easier.

You won’t hear fireworks as much. Fireworks are still legal in Georgia, and anyone with small children or pets is well aware of that fact. However, as of July 1, House Bill 419 will allow local counties and municipalities in Georgia to further regulate fireworks beyond their present level, so that if there is an issue with noise or a concern with drought conditions, fireworks may be limited or even curtailed entirely. They could decide to limit their use only to holidays or they could allow them for a short window of time each evening.

You can have a Mimosa on Sunday mornings now. The popular “brunch bill,”  also became a reality on July 1. Under this new law restaurants can start serving alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays instead of 12:30 p.m. So, if you’re the type of person who needs a drink at a restaurant before noon on Sunday, this law will make that possible.

Your child’s education is now fully funded. While this one isn’t technically a law, it is part of the state’s budget, which begins July 1. It may come as no surprise to you, but Georgia’s public schools aren’t currently fully funded. Next school year they will be. The state uses a formula to allocate funding to schools, and the budget now meets the formula’s requirements. It isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all of the state’s education woes, but at least by the state’s own definition, the schools are no longer under-funded.

Additional laws now in effect include:

Senate Bill 213, dubbed the “Flint River Drought Protection Act,” is a law that now offers compromise between environmentalists and the state to address how the state protects threatened wildlife when drought hits the Flint River Basin.

Senate Bill 386 aims to protect sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, taxpayer ID numbers and financial account numbers from being fully listed in public court filings. Mandates that when those accounts or numbers are required, they only be identified by the last four digits.

House Bill 60 expands where Georgians may legally carry firearms, including into public schools, bars, churches and government buildings under certain conditions.

House Bill 732 is now in effect with the goal of expanding the definition of and punishment for sex trafficking and setting mandatory sentencing guidelines.

House Bill  779 revises the duties of the director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and provides for the creation of the Board of Homeland Security.

The state is establishing the Board with the goal of setting up an appropriate infrastructure to manage function in the event of a radiological or biological terror attack in the state of Georgia.

House Bill  751 enacted the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority, which relates to public utilities and public transportation. Overall state management of 911 functions are being transferred from GEMA to the new agency.

This will also result in a change in how and where the 911 charge assessed to local telephone subscribers is administered.

As of  July 1, the 911 charge will be administered under the new GECA. Georgia’s 911 Advisory Committee, which had previously administered this function, will be abolished.

House Bill  890 now makes it a misdemeanor for someone to use an emergency exit after they have shoplifted an item in a store.

House Bill  513 provides for signage to be placed at hospitals and other medical facilities to indicate that a newborn child may be left there by a mother who does not want to keep it without criminal prosecution or penalty.

House Bill  718 allows for up to five days excused absences per school year for grade school students whose parent or guardian is in on leave from overseas deployment with the Armed Forces or National Guard.

House Bill  809 established requirements and guidelines for markings for any vehicle used by the Georgia State Patrol when they stop motorists.

The new law requires all such GSP motor vehicles to be painted in a solid color or in a two-tone uniform color described as follows: The “hood, top, and the top area not to exceed 12 inches below the bottom of the window opening thereof shall be a light gray color and the remaining portion of said motor vehicle shall be painted a dark blue color.”

Additionally, the law requires “that any such motor vehicle shall be distinctly marked on each side and the back thereof with the wording ‘State Patrol’ in letters not less than six inches in height of a contrasting color from the background color of the motor vehicle.”

It also says that it requires, “that any such motor vehicle be equipped with at least one lamp which when lighted shall display a flashing or revolving colored light visible under normal atmospheric conditions for a distance of 500 feet from the front and rear of such vehicle.”

Online buying will get more expensive. Right now, if you buy online, you don’t have to pay sales tax in Georgia. No more. You’ll now have to start ponying up the sales tax for online purchases. This law doesn’t actually start until January of 2019, so you may want to make those big online purchases before next year.

The Supreme Court weighed in on the online sales tax in a separate matter shortly after this law was signed. The online sales tax is here to stay and has the backing of the highest court in the land.


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