Drug tests for welfare applicants, and sentencing reform part of changes.
ATLANTA — Drug tests for welfare applicants, reduced benefit periods for unemployment insurance and tougher penalties for repeat elder-abuse and dog-attack offenders are among the changes coming from the new laws taking effect today.
Legislators often use July 1 as an effective date for their bills because it is the start of the state's fiscal year and it comes in the middle of the summer, making for a less hectic transition. That means the budget always takes effect then, and this year that includes no significant spending cuts for the first time since the recent recession.
Gov. Nathan Deal convinced legislators to do some reorganizing. Starting Monday, the State Personnel Administration and the Georgia Aviation Authority are abolished. The Herty Advanced Materials Development Center becomes part of Georgia Southern University. Child Care Services moves from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Early Care and Learning. And three programs head to new homes after leaving the Department of Labor, those for vocational rehabilitation, inspections and workforce investment.
Here are brief descriptions of the significant law changes going into effect.
Criminal-justice reform: Designed to save prison expenses by incarcerating only the most violent offenders, the law reduces the sentences for many nonviolent crimes like forgery, burglary and drugs. It also expands statewide the "accountability courts" operating in some large counties for addicts that focus more on treatment than punishment.
Welfare: Applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program will have to pass a drug test. But the names of those who fail will not be given to law enforcement, and their children will continue to get their checks as long as they go to another family member.
Unemployment: Employer premiums rise slightly, and the maximum benefit period declines. The new maximum falls between 14 and 20 weeks, down from 26 weeks. The actual length grows when the state's unemployment rate rises.
Elder abuse: All staff and administrators must undergo a background check, and it becomes a crime for a caregiver or guardian to neglect a senior citizen or someone disabled. A second conviction of operating an unlicensed personal-care home is now a felony, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation takes jurisdiction over elder-abuse cases.
Vicious dogs: There are new procedures for a judge to determine if an attack qualifies a dog to be labeled vicious. If so, the judge can order it destroyed. Otherwise, the owner must keep the animal in a locked pen unless on a short leash and muzzled. The owner must also post a $50,000 bond and may only own one dog considered vicious. If there is a second attack, the owner is subject to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison.
Scrap metal: To cut down on the theft of wire, air-conditioner tubing and other metals, the legislature placed new requirements on companies that buy scrap. They must check the seller's identification and see a receipt for the metal or a contractor's work order for its removal. They must also take digital photographs of sellers and keep them on file. Payouts cannot be on the spot.
Alcohol: One law doubles the allowable output of a brew pub and permits them to sell bottles and cans to wholesalers. Another creates special-event pouring licenses to save anyone hosting a one-time function or festival the expense of a permanent license in order to sell it for a few days. A third law allows free samples for people touring Georgia's few distilleries.
Live-aboards: To boost coastal tourism, the legislature tripled the days boaters may live on their boats while in a saltwater marina or mooring field. The law also makes it a crime to operate a boat in areas posted as off limits by the Department of Natural Resources.
Game and fish: 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. At the same time, commercial crabbing licenses are limited further, but those who have one can sell them or pass them on to family members.
Weapons: It is now against the law to point a laser at an aircraft or law enforcement officer. It's also now illegal to intimidate an officer or file a bogus lawsuit against one. Local governments can no longer enact ordinances limiting the possession, sale or making of knives that are more stringent than is state law.
Car tags: The sticker in place of the county name reading "In God We Trust" is now free, and so are specialty tags for anyone serving in the military. New tags highlight prostate and lung cancer, the handicapped and nurses.
Music therapists: A license is now required to practice this profession.
Sales tax: It's now legal for a retailer to advertise that the store will pay the sales tax. The law also requires more public reports about local sales-tax spending.
Tax court: Taxpayers unhappy with a ruling from the Department of Revenue can appeal to a special tax tribunal for a hearing before a judge with experience in complex tax matters. The rulings will be made available as guides for other taxpayers.
Vidalia onions: There is no longer a limit on the royalty or licensing fee for use of the sweet-onion trademark.
Read more: RN-T.com - New laws effective July 1