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Laws cover wide range of issues
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This week we will begin a review of legislation passed in the 2012 session of the General Assembly and include an effective date for the legislation to take effect. This first week, major issues will be covered with following weeks covering issues by category.

A quick review of major legislation

HB 347

— Unemployment Insurance — Actions taken to begin paying back the $700 million plus owed to the Federal Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Increases the taxable wage base for employers from $8,500 to $9,500 for unemployment insurance. Reduces the maximum number of weeks a claimant may receive benefits from 26 weeks and uses a sliding scale based on the prevailing state unemployment rate to determine from 14 to 20 weeks of benefits. The present unemployment rate of over 9 percent would mean claimants would receive 20 weeks of benefits. HB 347 also suspends the statewide reserve ratio surcharge under certain conditions.  The bill takes effect July 1.

HB 397

— Open Meetings Act Revision in local government — Product of the Attorney General working with the Legislature — Clarifies what a "meeting" is and is not. Final votes must be taken in open session. Defines "executive session" and lists what may be voted upon in those sessions. Limits the use of telephone meetings and allows teleconferencing only during emergencies. No more than twice a year, members of local government can teleconference if restricted by health reasons.

Increases fines for violations of open meetings provisions to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent per year. Data and data fields are now considered "records." Charges for copies under "open records" requests are reduced from .25 per page to .10. Requests for records may be oral or written but only written requests are subject to criminal and civil enforcement proceedings. Exemptions from disclosure are clarified and attorney-client privilege work definition is broadened but does not include relating to an investigation conducted by an attorney on behalf of an agency. New exemptions include economic development documents that are exempt only until a binding agreement is reached. Effective July 1.

HB 1176

— Criminal Justice Reform — Legislation resulting from the report of the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform — Revises drug and mental health court provisions, legal treatment of some criminal offenses, expands mandatory reporting of child abuse, addresses expungement and procedures of the Department of Corrections and Pardons and Paroles.

Under mental health, HB 1176 requires a risk and needs assessment focused on moderate and high risk offenders. Would institute standards and review process for mental health courts. The bill would alter degrees and sentencing of some crimes like burglary, theft, shoplifting and forgery. Drug offenses would be governed by a weight-based system which would determine the range of punishment. Following the Penn State case, the statute of limitations is lifted on some sex crimes committed on children younger than 16. Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse is expanded to include nurse’s aides, pregnancy resource centers and reproductive health care facility personnel including volunteers.

Rewrites expungement code effective Jan. 1, 2013, and allows more access to an individual’s criminal history. First offenders can also apply for expungement. Broadens the use of electronic monitoring as a condition of probation or for completion of a substance abuse or mental health treatment. Limits probation detention center time to 180 days. Effective date July 1. Schedule I and II Substances, July 1, 2013.  Schedules III, IV, July 1, 2014.

HB 872

— Regulation of Scrap Metal Recycling — this is the third attempt by the legislature to regulate this industry, with previous bills passing in 1997 and 2011. HB 872 includes new requirements for digital photographs or video of both the metal and seller.Requires a signed affidavit by the seller that he or she is the rightful owner of the property being sold or is entitled to sell it. A new database will be created and all information from each sale will go into that database.

Vehicles being sold must be accompanied by a title or by a Department of Revenue form and sent to DOR within 72 hours of receipt.

Limits cash payments for regulated metals. Payment by check or electronic transfer allowed for businesses but only vouchers for individuals which will be mailed 14 days later. Limits business hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lists conditions of seizure and forfeiture. Permits will be issued by local sheriffs and permit information stored in a database created by the GBI. Regular sellers of scrap metal must be permitted in the county of residence. The first violation of any requirement is a misdemeanor; second, high and aggravated misdemeanor; and the third, a felony with a 1-10 year sentence.

If the title is not available for a vehicle, none is required if the value is less than $850 and over 12 years old but a statement is required with extensive information and the information must be sent to Department of Motor Vehicles within 72 hours. Violation of these requirements is a felony with a possible $5000 fine and three years in jail.

Secondary metals recyclers, licensed used car parts dealers and scrap metal processors will be required to provide a list of daily vehicle purchases for scrap or parts with extensive information. Certification that the vehicle is lien-free must be retained for two years. The lien requirements are different for under 12 years old vehicles and over 12 years old. Legislation becomes effective July 1, 2012. 

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