Compiled By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
ATLANTA —Sunday, July 1, marked the beginning of a new fiscal year for Georgia and the state budget. That means that several new laws went into effect that you need to know about.
Among them is a highly publicized measure that will make it illegal to hold or operate a cell phone by hand while driving. Dozens of other bills and resolutions passed by the state legislature during the 2018 session will also take effect.
Here is a look at some of the major legislation that went into effect Sunday:
Starting Sunday, Georgia joins more than a dozen other states in banning hands-on cellphone use while driving.
Under the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” drivers will not be allowed to hold a phone or use any other part of their body to support the device. Violators will face fines of up to $150 and as many as three points on their license.
First-time offenders could avoid the fine by appearing in court with proof that they have purchased a hands-free device.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act also will prohibit recording video while driving, and other dangerous behaviors.
Police departments across the region will take different approaches to enforcing the new law. Some departments will cut motorists slack for weeks or months, writing warning tickets and handing out educational pamphlets in most circumstances. Others will offer no “grace period,” encouraging officers write tickets immediately.
But all of them will be watching.
“If the phone’s in their hand, they’re violating the law,” said Sgt. First Class Chris Stallings, who leads the Georgia State Patrol’s motorcycle unit.
Under the law, you’ll still be able to make calls, dictate texts and otherwise use your phone if you use hands-free technology. But if police see the phone in your hand, you may get a citation.
A first offense will cost you $50 and one point on your driver’s license — drivers with 15 points in a 24-month period lose their license. A second offense costs $100 and two points, and a third costs $150 and three points.
Police and other supporters say the law is about saving lives, not raising revenue. Time and again, police they say they’ve seen how hard it is for us to keep our eyes on the road and off our phones. Sometimes, they say, we need a reminder–in the form of a $50 ticket–that our primary job behind the wheel is driving.
The state’s medical marijuana program will expand to cover patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as intractable pain.
Backers say the changes will give patients suffering from PTSD and intractable pain an alternative to highly addictive opioid painkillers.
The program, which allows people with certain conditions to possess low-potency marijuana oil, began in 2015 and has since been expanded to cover more conditions. Previously covered conditions include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and AIDS.
BREAKING A LEASE
Victims who have received a domestic violence order in either criminal or civil court proceeding will be eligible to terminate a residential lease early without penalty.
Proponents of the new law say victims who are trying to escape a dangerous environment should not have to worry about such fees.
A tenant would need to provide a landlord with a written notice at least 30 days before breaking their lease.
FREE CREDIT FREEZE
A new law that took effect will prohibit consumer credit reporting agencies from charging Georgia residents to freeze their credit report. Placing a freeze on your credit is a security measure that can be used to combat identity theft. It essentially prevents creditors from obtaining your credit report, making it nearly impossible to open a new account.
Credit reporting agencies were previously allowed to charge a fee of up to $3 to freeze or unfreeze a report.
LOCAL LIMITS ON FIREWORKS
County and municipal officials in Georgia will have more authority to pass general noise ordinances effectively limiting the use of fireworks.
Under the law, however, fireworks will be permitted statewide on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the weekend before Memorial Day, July 3 and 4 and Labor Day.
Compiled By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~