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Pay Raises, School Vouchers and Other New State Laws Take Effect in July

Credit: Andre M / Wikimedia Commons

Soon after the Georgia legislative session ends in the waning days of winter is when bills lawmakers passed become laws, but it isn’t until the summer sizzles July 1 when many of those laws take effect.

The latest batch of new laws features big changes to cash bail requirements, as well as extended parental leave and raises for teachers, police officers and other state employees. July 1 also means the beginning of the state’s new budget year, when $36 billion pay primarily for education and health care for millions of Georgians.

Not all new laws will take effect without a fight. The U.S. District Court in Atlanta temporarily blocked a new law requiring charitable bail assistance organizations to follow the same regulations as private bail bond companies if they donate bail money more than three times in a year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and Georgetown University Law Center filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of Atlanta-based Barred Business Foundation and two Athens residents, Steve Williams and John Cole Vodicka.

The new cash bail law would also expose individuals to criminal charges for violations. The Republican-sponsored legislation was filed after nonprofits like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund used donations to bail out “Stop Cop City” protesters who are fighting the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. The cash bail law also adds a laundry list of misdemeanors crimes such as criminal trespassing that would require someone to post bail to get out of jail.  

During his January State of the State Address, Gov. Brian Kemp emphasized the importance of providing higher pay for educators, police officers, and other government employees who might be tempted to move out of Georgia for higher paying jobs. The 12-month budget cycle that began last week includes giving  a $2,500 raise for K-12 teachers and 4% raises to other state employees.

People convicted of calling in false alarms to law enforcement claiming an emergency is taking place at a home or business now face a felony criminal charge instead of a misdemeanor. Lawmakers increased the penalty after several Georgia public officials were the targets of “swatting” at their homes.

Georgia law enforcement agencies are  under greater pressure to verify the immigration status of detainees and inform federal authorities whenever undocumented immigrants are arrested.

Local governments risk losing state funding if they ignore sanctuary laws requiring police to identify, arrest, and detain undocumented immigrants. The catalyst for the new law came after the arrest of Venezuelan immigrant Jose Ibarra, who authorities say entered the country illegally, on charges that he murdered 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley, who was killed on Feb. 22 while jogging on a University of Georgia running trail.

Other new laws taking effect Monday:

• Eligible government employees can take up to 240 hours of paid parental leave within a year of the birth of their child, or within a year after adoption or taking in a minor through foster care. The new provision doubles state employees’ paid leave from three to six weeks for state government and public school employees.

• A new Telephone Consumer Protection Act is designed to stop spam calls by prohibiting companies from making telemarketing calls on their  behalf. 

• Under the new Georgia Squatter Reform Act, people living in another person’s house without their consent can be more easily evicted from the property.

• Renters are now required to meet local and state housing codes, and homeowners and condo associations must give property owners adequate time to resolve contract violations.

Meanwhile, a controversial school voucher program that will not open until the 2025 school year will allow parents of K-12 students to receive$6,500 of state money to pay for private school and homeschool expenses.

A six-year battle over school vouchers was won by Republican lawmakers this year. Beginning in the 2025 school year, the state will invest up to 1% of the state’s Quality Basic Education formula budgeted for K-12 public education, which now comes out to $141 million annually to cover tuition for about 21,500 students.

Critics of the vouchers bill complain $6,500 isn’t enough for cash-strapped families to cover tuition at the state’s better private schools. Voucher supporters argued that it gives parents the option of sending their children to higher performing schools than the ones offered by the local government.

The article originally appeared in the Georgia Recorder.