New year means new laws for state

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Immediately following the celebrations of a new year, new laws took effect in Georgia. Among those are three involving the youth of the state in 2014.

A state law requiring employees of Georgia childcare facilities to take part in a fingerprint background check took effect immediately. All employees hired after Jan. 1 will be subject to the test, while current or previously employed childcare workers will have up to three years to fulfill the requirement.

2014 also brought with it the final implementation of the overhaul of Georgia's juvenile code. Moving forward, only minors who have committed serious offenses can be held in police custody. Those committing offenses deemed minor will be placed in communitybased programs. The law addresses not only minors who have committed crimes, but also those who have been abused or neglected.

With the popular topic of the occurrence of concussions in Georgia school sports programs, the 'Return to Play Act of 2013' includes new guidelines for coaches and parents. The act requires schools and all public recreational facilities to give out information related to concussions at the start of each season.

If any student athlete shows signs of a concussion, the student must be taken out of the game or practice and examined by a 'health care provider.' If the student is determined to have suffered a concussion, the health care provider must clear him or her to return to play.

The 'health care provider' doesn't have to be a doctor, but can also be a nurse or certified athletic trainer, or any 'licensed individual under the supervision of a licensed physician.'

In addition to the new laws affecting the state's youth, stricter rules for lobbyists seeking to influence lawmakers have also been implemented for the new year. Lobbyists are now limited to $75 for gifts to individual legislators, and can no longer give tickets to sporting events or other functions.

Lobbyists can still spend unlimited amounts of money on events for groups, such as committee, caucuses, or the entire House or Senate, and can still pay reasonable travel expenses for legislators as long as the expenses are related to official duties.

Before the new federal background check law for day-care workers took effect, workers were required only to pass a state background check, which didn't provide information about any criminal convictions in other states. All new hires must have the fingerprints and background check. Current workers have until 2017 to have the background checks done.

The juvenile code rewrite is extensive, and covers many facets of Georgia law. Some of the provisions of the law took effect on July 1, 2013, and juvenile courts and agencies around the state have been getting ready for the rest of the changes.

The new juvenile laws aim to reduce the number of children locked up for minor crimes, and focus more on therapy and helping the entire family. They are also intended to help save the state money.

There are many big changes, and a lot of them are expensive and fall back on the counties. Coweta County received a state grant to help fund new programs, but many counties are having to move forward without any additional funding.

'I think we're ready,' Coweta Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant said last week. 'There will be some adjustments that will need to be made along the way, but nothing we can't handle.'

Everyone working in the Coweta Judicial Circuit juvenile court has been trained, and the circuit has 'conducted multiple training sessions on the new code for attorneys, Department of Family and Children Services workers, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers and law enforcement,' Wyant said. Coweta Juvenile Court hosted a training session in October.

In addition to the requirements of the new juvenile code, the court has new services 'being offered through a variety of community resources,' Wyant said. 'New mentors have come forward to help troubled kids,' and there are new programs through counseling agency Grace Harbour, and the University of West Georgia.

'Our community is stepping forward and offering a hand to those kids who need strong role models,' Wyant said.



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