Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tougher DUI Law to Start Soon; NEW LAWS July 1 Marks the Usual Starting Date for Changes. DRUNKEN DRIVING DUIs Will Be Tallied for 10 Years; the Fourth Will Become a Felony

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tougher DUI Law to Start Soon; NEW LAWS July 1 Marks the Usual Starting Date for Changes. DRUNKEN DRIVING DUIs Will Be Tallied for 10 Years; the Fourth Will Become a Felony

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA -- A legislative session that drew criticism for being dysfunctional and seeing few accomplishments actually did produce some useful measures, according to advocates of some new laws going into effect this summer.

From toughening the penalties for those who repeatedly drive under the influence of alcohol to making it easier for charter schools to open and consumers to safeguard their credit ratings, the General Assembly's 2008 session was a success for a handful of causes.

"In otherwise what's roundly considered to be a pretty mediocre session, there actually were some really solid pieces of policy that were passed and signed into law," said Allison Wall, executive director of Georgia Watch, which pushed for the credit measure.

A look at some of the changes that will go into effect over the next month, with most of the new laws kicking in Tuesday:

STRONGER DUI LAWS

A measure will make it harder to escape the shadow of drunken driving convictions, and would stiffen penalties for those who repeatedly get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.

Under current state law, a person's DUI convictions are counted against them for five years, with the fines, jail time and community service requirements growing with second and third offenses.

But beginning Tuesday, a person's DUI convictions will be tallied for 10 years. And a fourth conviction will become a felony, bringing up to five years in jail in addition to more community service and higher fines than the first three convictions.

"We know that this will have an impact on DUI crashes in the future," said Denise Thames, executive director of the Georgia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We certainly hope that repeat offenders will wake up and heed the call."

Thames said Georgia was one of only five states not to have a felony DUI law before the bill passed the General Assembly.

All four convictions will have to come after Tuesday for the harsher penalties to be used.

A controversial provision that was once part of the bill -- one that would require those convicted of DUIs to place ignition interlock devices on their cars -- was stripped from the bill as it moved through the General Assembly because of civil liberties concerns.

"That does not mean that we won't be going back in the future to hopefully do something with this," Thames said.

CREDIT FREEZE: A LATER DATE

One month after the traditional July 1 effective date of new legislation, the state's credit-freeze law will hit the books. Under the measure, a consumer can ask credit-reporting companies to "freeze" their information, preventing identity thieves from opening new credit card or cell phone accounts.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in consumers' lives right now," Wall said. …

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