Transit, lease, medical marijuana laws take effect Sunday in Georgia


Many Georgians know that, come Sunday, a new distracted driving law will aim to keep cellphones out of drivers’ hands.

Many more may not know that as the new fiscal year begins Sunday, it also marks the effective date for hundreds of bills and resolutions the General Assembly adopted this year.

Here is a look at some of the more important new laws:

New transit money — House Bill 930

Thirteen metro Atlanta counties will get to decide whether they want to ask their residents to vote in favor of imposing sales taxes of up to 1 percent for mass transit. Fulton County, which already has a 0.75 percent tax for road and bridge construction, plus the existing 1 percent MARTA tax, would be limited to a 0.2 percent sales tax.

A new transportation agency, the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, will oversee transit funding and construction for the metro area as a way to coordinate projects across county lines.

Breaking a lease — House Bill 834

Tenants who have gotten a court-issued protective order against an abusive partner or family member can more easily break a lease when a new measure becomes law Sunday. The measure allows a tenant to terminate a residential lease 30 days after providing a landlord written notice when a judge has issued a protective order in a family violence case.

The bill was designed to help family violence victims escape their abusers. Victims many times stay in violent relationships because they can’t afford to move out.

Medical marijuana — House Bill 65

Georgians suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain will soon be allowed to use medical marijuana. Beginning Sunday, PTSD and intractable pain will be added to the list of conditions eligible for treatment by cannabis oil.

Georgia’s medical marijuana law, first passed in 2015, already covers more than a dozen conditions, including late-stage cancer and seizure disorders. The law allows patients, approved by a physician, to possess small amounts of cannabis oil.

Freeze credit for free — Senate Bill 376

Georgia residents concerned about identity theft will be able to lock their credit report for free starting Sunday. The General Assembly this year passed a law preventing credit reporting agencies from charging customers to lock their reports.

It currently costs customers up to $3 each time they want to lock or unlock their credit reports. The new law is in response to a giant data breach last year by Equifax that exposed the personal information of at least 143 million Americans.

Local fireworks restrictions — House Bill 419

Beginning Sunday, local officials have the authority to pass regulations that could effectively ban the use of fireworks except for certain holidays. The law allows fireworks statewide on Jan. 1, the Saturday and Sunday before Memorial Day, July 3, July 4, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve.

The law requires locals to enact “general” noise ordinances that don’t target fireworks use. Anyone selling fireworks in Georgia will be required to post signs urging customers to check their local ordinances to find out when the devices can be used.

A few new laws still have a bit of time before they go into effect:

Cash bond overhaul — Senate Bill 407

The final piece of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice overhaul will go into effect Jan. 1 when courts across the state implement changes to their cash bond system. Deal said the change will shift the state’s focus toward “the most serious and violent offenders” while saving counties dollars.

The law requires judges to consider a defendant’s financial status when setting bail and allows law enforcement officers to issue citations instead of filing criminal charges.

Adoption — House Bill 159

On Sept. 1, a law overhauling the state’s adoption statutes will go into effect, with the aim of reducing adoption waiting times, legalizing the reimbursement of birth mothers’ expenses in private adoptions, banning middlemen who profit from arranging adoptions and simplifying out-of-state adoptions.

Many potential adoptive parents found Georgia’s adoption laws, which had not been updated since 1990, so burdensome that they chose to travel to neighboring states to find children, lawmakers said.

Online sales tax — House Bill 61

Bolstered by a recent blessing from the U.S. Supreme Court, the state on Jan. 1 will begin requiring online retailers who make at least $250,000 or 200 sales a year in Georgia to either collect and remit to the state sales taxes on purchases or send “tax due” notices each year to customers who spend at least $500 on their sites.

State officials estimate the change could mean an extra $500 million to $600 million a year in sales tax collections for the state and local governments.


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