- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - The month of July kicks off the new year for state government. It’s also the first effective day for dozens of laws passed by the General Assembly.

Lawmakers can allow bills to take effect sooner than that. For example, some measures become law when signed by the governor or at an earlier date.

Here’s a look at some new laws taking effect at the start of July:

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Until now, Georgia was the only state to allow broad privileges for law enforcement facing grand jurors for using deadly force. The law drew criticism amid increasing scrutiny nationwide of police use of force.

Police officers now will have to answer questions if they decide to make a statement before a grand jury. Previously, an officer could give a statement without questioning. They no longer can be present for the entire proceeding, which are traditionally secret.

A separate law will speed up testing of rape kits following reports of sexual assault. The proposal is aimed at preventing kits from becoming backlogged at hospitals or law enforcement agencies around the state.

Law enforcement now will have to pick up kits from hospitals within 96 hours and submitted to the state for testing within 30 days.

For convicted drug offenders, a new law gives access to food stamps after they are released. The change is part of a sweeping law focused on Georgia’s criminal justice system.

States can choose to opt out of a federal ban on food assistance for convicted drug offenders. Georgia declined until this year.

WEAPONS

Students older than 18 and employees can begin carrying electroshock weapons on public college campuses. Supporters pitched the change as a self-defense option, while Democrats warned that the weapons could be misused in a college environment.

Technical College System of Georgia spokeswoman Alison Tyrer said every campus police chief has been informed of the change. University System of Georgia spokesman Charlie Sutlive said the system has “been working directly with our campus chiefs of police and safety departments.” A memo sent to all campuses recommends reviewing the change with all officers and other staff.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a more prominent bill permitting people with state firearms licenses to carry handguns on campus. Supporters have vowed to resurrect the proposal in the next legislative session.

SUPREME COURT

The search for people to fill two new seats on Georgia’s Supreme Court will begin this summer, as a new law expanding the court’s size takes effect.

Georgia’s constitution already permitted nine justices but state law previously limited it to seven.

The Judicial Nomination Commission reviews applications for any open court spots and gives a list of recommended finalists to the governor. Co-chairs Randy Evans and Pete Robinson said they expect Deal to make his appointments by October.

The new justices will serve from January through 2018 before statewide elections for a six-year term.

Evans said he’s expecting more than 100 applications for the slots. Both co-chairs said they expect to recommend about 10 finalists for personal interviews with Deal.

The change will give Deal a lasting impact on the highest court. Two sitting justices are expected to retire before his final term ends. Georgia’s Constitution requires that justices retire by age 75 or risk their retirement benefits.

ABORTION

Lawmakers and groups opposing abortion successfully passed several measures into law this year, including creation of a grant program for “pregnancy resource centers” that offer medical and other services to pregnant women while discouraging them from getting abortions.

The state’s budget for this financial year includes $2 million for the grants.

A separate measure requires juvenile courts to collect and submit statistics on minors requesting a judge’s permission to have an abortion without informing her parents or guardians and judges’ responses.

HEALTH

Two new laws are aimed at helping people with serious diseases.

A “Right to Try” law allows people with terminal illnesses to use experimental medical treatments that have completed the first phase of a federal trial and remain under study. Similar laws have passed in more than 20 states.

Another law, inspired by former President Jimmy Carter, prevents insurance companies from limiting coverage of drugs for stage four cancer patients. Supporters said patients sometimes cannot get certain drugs unless they first try other treatment options.

Carter, 91, announced in August that he had been diagnosed with skin cancer that had spread to his brain and would begin receiving doses of an immune-boosting drug. Doctors also removed a portion of his liver and completed a round of radiation treatment. Carter said in March that he had stopped the drug treatment after several scans found no cancer in his body.

OPEN RECORDS

College athletic departments in Georgia will have 90 days - instead of three - to respond to almost all open-records requests.

First-year University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart told reporters at a spring news conference that while visiting the Capitol this session he was asked about the differences between UGA and other football programs. Smart previously worked at the University of Alabama, where state law allows a “reasonable time” for responses.

Open records advocates blasted the changes, arguing that no other state has such an exemption for college sports. The bill maintains the existing three-day time frame for athletic departments to produce records related to salary information on “nonclerical staff.”

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