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New laws on immigration, insurance, child safety seats, Sunday alcohol
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Among the laws that were to take effect today:

-IMMIGRATION: Portions of Georgia's new law cracking down on illegal immigration had been set to kick in, including provisions that: allow local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of a suspect who can't provide an accepted form of identification and to detain illegal immigrants and penalize those who transport or harbor illegal immigrants in certain circumstances. A federal judge on Monday put those parts of the law on hold. Other parts, including one that makes it a felony with stiff penalties to use false information or documentation to get a job, will enter into effect Friday as planned.

-SUNDAY SALES: Local governments may authorize referenda allowing grocery, convenience and liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays. The first votes are expected to take place in November.

-TAX BREAKS: Georgia business mainstays Delta and Gulfstream are seeing hefty tax breaks continued. The Delta extension applies to jet fuel and will save the air carrier up to $30 million over two years. Another tax break on the sale of aircraft parts on planes repaired or maintained in Georgia applies to Gulfstream. It will cost the state $4.2 million in revenue next year. In an effort to boost tourism, Georgia will also now offer a 25 percent tax break to businesses willing to bring attractions worth at least $1 million to the state.

-ANTIFREEZE: In an effort to deter pets and children from ingesting the poisonous substance, antifreeze sold in the state must contain a bitter-tasting chemical.

-ASSISTED LIVING: Senior citizens will have more options as assisted living centers are allowed to offer additional services. The change will allow some seniors to avoid being funneled into nursing homes once they are unable to take their own medications or become immobile.

-BILLBOARDS: Owners may clear-cut many trees on state property blocking motorists from seeing their billboards. Only historic trees, those planted as memorials or trees that are more than 75 years old would be spared. The law also makes those who maintain obscene ads guilty of a misdemeanor with fines of up to $10,000.

-MENTAL HEALTH: A new division would be set up within Georgia's court system for defendants suffering from mental illness, developmental disability or substance abuse in an effort to ease prison overcrowding by finding alternatives for some nonviolent offenders.

—CHILD RESTRAINTS: Children ages 6 and 7 must use booster car seats. Child restraints had previously been required for children under age 6. Children over 4 feet, 9 inches tall are exempt from the new law. Children weighing 40 pounds or more are not exempt, but may use a lap belt alone under certain circumstances.

-HUNTING: Deer and hog hunters using bait in south Georgia will be allowed to get as close as they like to their prey. They had been required to stay 200 yards away and out of sight.

-HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Those convicted of human trafficking will stay in prison longer under a new law that increases minimum sentencing from 1 year to 10 years and adds a fine of up to $100,000 for a conviction. If the victim is a minor, the trafficker would face no less than 25 years in prison.

-PRESCRIPTION DATABASE: Doctors and pharmacists will be able to check a patient's history of drug use with a new prescription drug database aimed at curbing abuses by addicts or drug dealers. Law enforcement would need a warrant to access the records.


Georgia General Assembly:


ATLANTA — State-licensed insurance companies are now able to sell health policies offered in other states that provide less coverage than Georgia requires.

The new law is one of dozens set to take effect in Georgia on July 1, the start of the state's fiscal year.

Others include a law that paves the way for communities to permit the Sunday sales of alcohol and another that allows billboard owners to clear cut many trees blocking their signs. A law cracking down on illegal immigration is also set to take effect, but a federal judge on Monday blocked some portions of it.

Delta Air Lines, Gulfstream and developers spending $1 million or more to bring tourist attractions to the state are also eligible for hefty tax breaks, under bills Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law.

The insurance law authorizes the sale of insurance policies across state lines for Georgia residents. Experts say it's among the first law of its kind in the nation.

Critics complain that it opens the door for watered down policies that don't cover services like diabetes care, mammograms or regular checkups for young children that are required under Georgia policies. But supporters say it could drive down prices by introducing more competition and allow the roughly 20 percent of Georgians who are uninsured to find a policy they can afford.

It could still be some time before any out-of-state policies are available to Georgia residents.

The state insurance commissioner's office must write and adopt regulations governing the policies and that process could take several months.

Even then, it's unclear how broad the impact will be.

The law covers only individual policies, not the larger group ones purchased by companies providing health coverage to their employees. Such individual policies comprise only about 4 percent of the market in Georgia, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. How many insurers operating in Georgia will offer up plans from other states is also an open question.

Graham Thompson, executive director of the Georgia Association of Health Insurance Plans, said the group is intrigued by the new law. But he said his members — the seven largest insurers in the state — will need to see how the regulations take shape before they decide whether to jump in.

"We remained neutral on the bill because it's so new," Thompson said. "But we are all for ways to offer affordable products to our customers ... the goal is great."

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, said he worked to build in consumer protections.

The out-of-state plans must carry a benefits chart outlining exactly what Georgians are getting for their money and they must still be approved by the state insurance commissioner. Those who purchase the plans would still have access to the state's dispute resolution process and the Georgia courts, Ramsey said.

Ramsey said he hopes the bill will chip away at a critical market — the uninsured who don't have coverage through work and who are looking for an individual policy that fits their budget.

"We want to have a wide range of product options out there," the Peachtree City Republican said. "So, if your family can only afford a Ford than we want to be able to get a Ford."

"Let the free market work," Ramsey said.

But Cynthia Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a consumer health group, said the law will create "a race to the bottom" with Georgians buying stripped-down policies without really understanding how little they actually cover.

Andy Lord, a lobbyist at the state Capitol for the American Diabetes Association, said there is no evidence to support the idea that the law would drive down costs. He said the real intent seems to be to chip away at Georgia health insurance mandates

"This says that whatever the lowest level of coverage is in any other state is good enough for Georgia," Lord said.

Lawmakers in Georgia tried for several years to adopt the health insurance bill. They succeeded this year as both the House and Senate picked up Republican seats. Passage of the bill followed a bitter debate, with Democrats arguing the bill would undermine the state's relatively tough insurance mandates, adopted over the years by the state Legislature.

Richard Cauchi, health program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said two other states — Wyoming and Rhode Island — have passed similar laws. But Rhode Island's law, enacted in 2008, is regional in scope, looking to partner with other New England states to expand its own health insurance offerings, he said. Wyoming's law was enacted in 2010.

Cauchi said the Georgia law is the first to be signed since President Barack Obama signed the federal health care reform bill into law.

Eighteen states have considered such laws, Cauchi said.

"It seems to be a popular topic lately," he added.


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