Sunday was the beginning of the first full month of summer. For old music fans, it is the date that the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” went No. 1 (1967). For sports fans, it is the date that the first 24-hour all-sports radio station went on air (WFAN-AM out of New York, 1987). And for all of us in Georgia, it is the date that many new laws take effect. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few of the changes that might be of interest.
Law enforcement officers have been given new protection, as now attempting to intimidate a law enforcement officer outside the scope of his or her employment, or attempts to intimidate the officer’s family in retaliation for something the officer did while on duty is now a felony. Also, running from an officer carries mandatory jail time if found guilty.
Metal theft is one of the more difficult crimes to manage but new legislation is helping us to get it under control. Now, only licensed contractors or others who can verify that they are the legal owner of the metal can sell it to a recycler. Sales cannot be for cash and the recycler must be registered with the sheriff. Similar guidelines now govern the sale of metal grave markers to recyclers.
The Department of Human Services may now administer drug tests to applicants for public assistance and charge a fee for the test. Active Medicaid recipients are exempted from the fee.
More types of synthetic marijuana have been added to the list of controlled substances. This is a real challenge because new types are constantly being introduced in an attempt to stay ahead of the law, but we try to remain as current as possible. Also, the drug which has been popularly referred to as the “Michael Jackson drug,” propofol, has been added to the list.
One of the changes that will have the greatest on my office is the Criminal Justice Reform Act. While the Act does many good things in relation to Drug Courts and Mental Health Courts, the portion that causes me the greatest concern is the part that changed the definition of certain crimes and their related punishments. Many theft-related crimes that were previously categorized as felonies are now misdemeanors. Many crimes that are still listed as felonies have had the minimum sentence reduced. The effect of this is likely to be that more offenders will serve out their (shorter) sentences in the county jail rather than being transferred to a state prison. This would increase the burden on county tax payers. Only time will tell if this result is realized. Another potential result may be that more non-incarcerative options are explored.
There are, of course, many other changes that have taken effect, and many that have been passed but will not take effect until January. A searchable database of all new legislation is available at the Georgia General Assembly’s website: www.legis.ga.gov. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about any new law, please feel free to contact my office at 229-430-6508.
Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982 and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.