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July 3, 2014

New state laws to know

New Ga. laws taking affect

MILLEDGEVILLE — Tuesday marked the start of Georgia's fiscal year and the beginning date of several new laws.

Check out these laws now officially on the book.

• House Bill 60

The Georgia “Safe Carry Protection Act” packs several changes to state law concerning where a permitted individual can carry and be punished for carrying a particular firearm.

Local governments can only prohibit firearms or any other weapon in government buildings if security personnel screen entrances.

If a license holder attempts to enter these buildings with a weapon, they must have the option to exit before any further action can be taken.

Non-license holders are prohibited from entering government buildings at all times.

Governmental entities are prohibited from any regulation or restrictions on lawful possession of firearms in public housing.

Local boards of education will be allowed to authorize personnel to carry weapons within school safety zones, functions or on a school bus as long as the designated persons have a valid carry license and undergo some training.

The BOE determines which weapons are allowed and shall require them to be kept on the person or in a locked safe. They aren't required to share information on where such weapons may be stored and who may be carrying them to local law enforcement.

This information is protected from open records.

Persons carrying any weapon cannot be detained solely for the purpose of checking to see if they have a valid carry license. To detain a person in theses cases, the person must have created reasonable suspicion that another law is being violated.

Since law enforcement would be prohibited from detaining to see a weapons carry license in many situations, all individuals carrying firearms in an unsecured government building, including prohibited persons, must be treated as if they were license holders or the officer or local government could face a lawsuit for asking to see a license.

Weapons are prohibited in places of worship unless the governing body permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders.

Firearms will be allowed in bars, unless the private property owner or lessor excludes or ejects the individual after giving them notice to depart.

Business owners can also place a sign prohibiting weapons on the premises.

• House Bill 697

This creates the Zell Miller Grant, a new subprogram of the HOPE Grant. The Zell Miller Grant covers full tuition for students enrolled in a certificate or diploma program who achieve and maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA.

Based on current enrollment numbers, the Zell Miller Grant will cover approximately 16,000 students attending schools within the Technical College System of Georgia in FY 2015. HB 697 also allows taxpayers to contribute to nonprofits created by the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC) to aid students with education expenses through Georgia income tax return forms.

• House Bill 845

This law will keep mug shots secret in most cases until a defendant's case is settled. It aims to prevent unscrupulous websites that collect mug shots from police agencies from demanding money from individuals who have been found not guilty before removing the photos from the site.

Media outlets may still request a copy of a mug shot in writing if they agree to be held criminally liable if the photo ends up on one of the questionable sites.

• House Bill 990

The new law is the biggest roadblock yet to expanding Medicaid in Georgia under the Affordable Care Act.

HB 990 says the Medicaid program comprises one of the largest expenditures of state funds in the annual budget, and any decision to increase the income threshold for eligibility must be carefully considered within that context. Gov. Nathan Deal declined to expand Medicaid eligibility through increasing the income threshold despite efforts by the federal government to compel states to expand this program through the Affordable Care Act, according to the bill.

In support of Deal's stance against this effort to oblige states to expand Medicaid benefits, the General Assembly now has the power to make any future decision on Medicaid.

• House Bill 459

Among the new legislation is HB 459, targeting slow drivers who hog the passing lane and slow traffic on Georgia highways.

Georgia's new 'slow poke' law requires drivers in the left lane of a four-lane highway or interstate to merge to the right lane when faster traffic approaches from behind.

The law is intended to reduce traffic congestion and accidents.

Drivers will face a misdemeanor if they're ticketed. Local counties and courts will set a minimum speed limit and their own amount for the citation.

• Senate Bill 386

The new law 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. When those accounts or numbers are required, they must only be identified by the last four digits.

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