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New laws in Georgia regulate hemp products, set standards for rental properties and lower income taxes

By JEFF AMY – Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — The state of Georgia on Monday imposed new restrictions on the sale of cannabis products, mandated certain basic standards for rental housing, cut income taxes and required bail for dozens of new crimes.

These are some of the numerous laws passed by the General Assembly earlier this year that came into effect on July 1.

A portion of the bail law that limits the ability of individuals and charitable groups to post bail for others was suspended by a federal judge on Friday after a lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Another law that would require online sites to collect data on wholesalers who accept payments in cash or other offline methods has also been challenged, but a federal judge did not immediately dismiss the lawsuit after a hearing on Friday.

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Other laws took effect with Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature, including a May 1 measure requiring prison guards to check inmates’ immigration status. That’s already law in Georgia, but Republican supporters say some prison guards are ignoring their obligations.

The immigration law was passed after the murder of nursing student Laken Riley on the University of Georgia campus. Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan, has pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges related to Riley’s death.

Here’s a look at some of the new laws in Georgia:

Income tax

An already planned state income tax cut will be accelerated by Act 1015, which gives the state a flat income tax rate of 5.39%, retroactive to Jan. 1. As of that date, Georgia has had a flat income tax rate of 5.49%, passed by a 2022 law that moves away from a number of income brackets that topped out at 5.75%.

The income tax rate is expected to decrease by 0.1% annually, reaching 4.99% if state revenues remain the same. The state will forego an estimated $300 million by reducing the tax rate from 5.49% to 5.39%. This amount is in addition to the $800 million the state will forego under the previous tax cut.

A separate bill will reduce the corporate tax rate from 5.75% to 5.39%. Under the bill, the corporate tax rate would continue to fall along with the personal income tax rate until it reaches 4.99%. The corporate tax cut would cost $176 million in the first full year.

Hemp products

Retailers can only sell hemp products like CBD to people 21 and older under Senate Bill 494. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers must obtain permits from the state Department of Agriculture. Products can only be sold if they have been tested, with state agriculture agencies also regulating testing labs.

Hemp products must show test results and a warning if they contain THC, the substance in marijuana that produces a high. Officials have said that products they have tested in the past have had illegally high levels of delta-9 THC and that labels do not accurately reflect a product’s ingredients.

The measure prohibits the sale of hemp products within 500 feet of an elementary school and bans hemp products that look like existing snacks or candy to make them less appealing to children. That could lead to a ban on hemp-infused brownies, cookies and candy, but experts say gummy bears and hemp-infused beverages will remain legal.

The measure limits how much delta-9 THC a product can contain and aims to stop the sale of products containing chemicals that can be converted to THC. Other CBD substances such as delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC remain legal in Georgia.

Rental standards

Landlords in Georgia would be required by law for the first time to maintain rental properties in a condition suitable for human occupancy under House Bill 404. The bill also requires that air conditioning units not be turned off before an eviction notice is filed, in addition to existing requirements to provide heat, light and water.

The law requires landlords to provide written notice to tenants who are in arrears with rent or other dues three days before initiating eviction proceedings. In addition, an eviction notice must be posted “conspicuously” on the door of the rental property.

The measure limits the deposit to two months’ rent.

Deposit

Senate Bill 63 would require cash bail for 30 additional crimes, including some misdemeanors.

The measure undermines 2018 changes that allow judges to release most misdemeanor defendants without bail. Supporters argue that people who leave jail without paying bail are less likely to show up in court, although national studies contradict that claim.

While judges would still have the ability to set very low bail, opponents say that’s unlikely, warning that the move could result in poor defendants ending up in prison even if they’re charged with crimes for which they’re unlikely to ever go to prison.

A federal judge on Friday put on hold for at least 14 days a portion of the law that prohibits nonprofit bail funds or individuals from releasing more than three people from prison each year. Only those who meet the legal requirements for bail insurance can do so.

Opponents filed a lawsuit on June 21, claiming that parts of the law were unconstitutional.

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