Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

116 New Laws Will Go into Effect Monday; Workers Comp, Pill-Mill Regulations among the Highlights

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

116 New Laws Will Go into Effect Monday; Workers Comp, Pill-Mill Regulations among the Highlights

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Among the 116 laws taking effect Monday are new limits on workers compensation benefits, tougher restrictions on pain-management clinics and relaxed sentences for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

July begins the state's new fiscal year, and the start of a $19 billion spending blueprint that carries over 3 percent reductions for all agencies other than schools. It also makes a handy time for new laws to take effect.

This year's list includes laws that roll out the welcome mat for returning military veterans and the makers of beach movies. It also contains statutes that make it crimes to obstruct a park ranger or steal someone's medical identity, and they boost the penalties for elder abuse.

Many new laws took effect when the governor signed them in the spring, like creation of a fund to invest taxpayer money in homegrown startup companies. Others will become law in January, like a cap on what politicians can accept from lobbyists, while a few, like revised teacher evaluations, won't become operational until July 1 of next year.

Here's a summary of some of the most significant new laws coming Monday:

SENTENCING REFORM

Juveniles who get into trouble without committing violent acts will now be supervised and counseled while living at home rather than being shipped off to a state facility to spend time behind bars.

"Our new juvenile law places Georgia in an elite group of states committed to positive change for children," said Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children, one of three lead partners of statewide juvenile justice coalition JUSTGeorgia. "This is truly a turning point. Now, we'll turn our focus to education efforts about the new law."

Judges in adult courts gain the power to sentence those convicted of nonviolent crimes to less prison time if they haven't had a previous conviction. There is also a permanent council to oversee the reforms in adult and juvenile sentencing enacted in the last two years.

Chad Brock, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the law but noted that only 129 of the roughly 2,600 drug defendants convicted last year had no prior convictions.

"When you look at numbers like that, you have to ask how big of an impact it will have," he said, but he predicted that having a permanent council will lead to the relaxation of more mandatory sentences in the future.

Gov. Nathan Deal and other Republicans supported the reforms, in part, to halt the growing prison population that costs taxpayers ever-increasing amounts. That's a sentiment shared by the state's prison officials.

"With the addition of House Bill 349, we will continue to reduce prison terms, provide alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders and reduce jail capacity significantly. …

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