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New Laws Taking Effect Jan. 1

State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, highlights some of the legislation that will take effect when the new year begins.

Dear Editor,

During the 2012 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a wide range of legislation, from bills strengthening our criminal justice system to protecting the life of the unborn. Although many of these initiatives have already been implemented, let’s focus on several pieces of legislation that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

HB 1176 is a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill that was signed into law on May 2 by Gov. Nathan Deal. The overall intention of HB 1176 is to strengthen penalties for violent and career criminals, while providing more effective punishments for low-level drug users and property offenders. This legislation also serves to protect Georgia’s young people by expanding the mandatory reporting of child abuse to include anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that abuse is occurring and eliminates the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed on a someone younger than 16.

Currently, our state is spending more than $1 billion annually on Georgia’s correctional system—and taxpayers would have paid $264 million more over the next five years to accommodate a rising prison population if drastic revisions to the current system were not made. With the passage of this legislation, Georgia is now in the company of more than a dozen states—including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky—that are currently implementing criminal justice policies designed to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

HB 954, better known as the fetal pain bill, prohibits abortions when the probable gestational age of the unborn child is found to be 20 weeks or more, except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy “medically futile.” This term means the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal abnormality that would not allow the child to live after birth. HB 954 further underscores the General Assembly’s commitment to preserve the sanctity of life and extend protection to children who are still in the womb.

As a pro-life senator, I applaud the General Assembly’s steps to close the time window on abortions and hope that one day, it will be widely recognized that the value of a life is not dependent on a number.

HB 711 will keep all communication confidential between victims and advocates at domestic violence and sexual assault centers. The bill also exempts domestic abuse cases from the spousal evidence privilege in criminal proceedings. Specifically, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other spouse unless one spouse is charged with a crime against his or her spouse, one spouse is charged with causing damage to his or her spouse’s property, or the spouse’s crime against his or her current spouse occurred prior to their marriage.

These measures were specifically designed to assist prosecutors and courts in their efforts to curb domestic violence. 

SB 37 placed on the ballot a proposal to amend our state’s Constitution to allow the General Assembly to authorize certain state agencies to enter into multi-year rental agreements. The measure was approved by 63.77 percent of the voters. Previously, Georgia agencies and departments were only allowed to enter into rental agreements of one year or less and were therefore unable to negotiate a long-term, more cost efficient lease. As with most rental properties, shorter rental agreements are typically more expensive than extended, multi-year leases. By changing this law, Georgia will also be allowed to sign the same kinds of leases as private businesses and dramatically reduce the amount of taxpayer funds spent on office space for state workers.

This law also includes multiple oversight mechanisms on new leases to protect the taxpayer against the misappropriation of state funds. In addition, recent estimates by the State Properties Commission indicate that the passage of this amendment could result in over $66 million in taxpayer savings over the next 10 years. This is good news for Georgia taxpayers and will help keep the state’s real estate costs low.

As we gear up for another productive legislative session, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass sound legislation that solidifies Georgia’s reputation as a great place to do business and raise a family. It is always a pleasure to serve you, the citizens of the 31st Senate District at the State Capitol.

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov/.

State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen

State Sen. Bill Heath serves as chairman of the Finance Committee. He represents the 31st Senate District, which consists of Haralson and Polk counties and portions of Bartow and Paulding counties. He may be reached at 404-656-3943 or by email at billheath@billheath.net.

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