News, Politics

New Laws Taking Effect: Cocktails To Go, Bicycle Protections, Voting Changes

Legislators celebrate the end of the 2021 legislative session, in the Senate chamber at the State Capitol late Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Atlanta.
Legislators celebrate the end of the 2021 legislative session, in the Senate chamber at the State Capitol late Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Atlanta.
Credit Brynn Anderson / AP Photo
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July 1, the beginning of a new fiscal year for the state of Georgia, is the day many new state laws passed by the General Assembly go into effect. 

Here are some of the new regulations going on the books in 2021:

SB 202: The State’s New Voting Law

While most of this new law went into effect immediately, six sections of it were given a July 1 implementation date, most of them focused on new absentee and early voting requirements. There’s a new ID requirement for absentee ballots, a change that cuts the window during which voters can request absentee ballot applications in half, and an additionally mandated day of Saturday early voting. Plus, county elections offices now must print ballots on security paper.

SB 236: Cocktails To-Go

Selling cocktails to-go is now legal for restaurants in Georgia. However, they must be in an “approved container” that does not have an opening or a straw hole and must be accompanied by a food order. 

HB 479: Citizens Arrest Repeal

After national outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga. last year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle zeroed in on a vague, Civil War-era law that allowed Georgia citizens to “arrest” another if they had knowledge of a crime. That law has been used to defend the men in jail for Arbery’s death because they have argued they suspected Arbery of a burglary.

This law repeals the original language. It passed the General Assembly nearly unanimously this year championed by Gov. Brian Kemp and replaces the statute with narrow language that allows shop owners to detain shoplifters and explicitly prevents the use of deadly force.

HB 286: Anti-Defund The Police Law

This new law prevents municipal and county governments in Georgia from decreasing police funding by more than 5% in one year. Among the exceptions are police forces with less than 25 members, and in the case of a revenue drop of more than 5%. 

The new measure’s Republican sponsor, State Rep. Houston Gaines has said it’s designed to prevent the “defund the police” movement from spreading to Georgia. While no Georgia localities have actually decreased police funding, Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County have considered proposals to do so. Democrats have criticized the law as an overreach of state power. 

HB 466: Drivers Ed

This law adds a new driver’s ed requirement for 17-year-olds wishing to get a Georgia license. Previously, only 16-year-olds had to fulfill a 30-hour driver’s ed requirement, plus 6 hours of in-car lessons.

HB 353: Sharing The Road

This bipartisan measure adds additional protections for cyclists on Georgia roads. Previous law only required that vehicles leave a “safe distance.” This new law requires vehicles to change lanes if a cyclist is on the road, and slow their speed while passing the cyclist at a three-foot distance if a lane change is not possible. There’s also a new misdemeanor penalty and a fine of up to $250 for not complying with the law.  

HB 94: Porch Thieves

A Republican-led law that criminalizes “porch piracy,” or the taking of three or more envelopes, bags, packages or any other item from the porch, steps, entrance or entrance of a dwelling without permission. The felony is now punishable for between one and five years in jail. It also criminalizes the possession of at least ten pieces of stolen mail, or pieces from at least three addresses, making it also punishable for between one and five years in jail. 

SB 47: Expands Special Needs Scholarship Program

Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship program was created in 2007. Parents whose students have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) can use state funds to help pay for tuition to a private school. Senate Bill 47 expands the program to include special needs students with 504 plans in addition to IEPs, opening the program up to more students. 

COVID liability extension 

A law that extends protections for businesses against lawsuits related to transmission of the coronavirus on their premises. The protections were set to expire in July 2021, but were extended for another year.