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New laws take effect in Georgia on Sunday

    ATLANTA — Women seeking abortions in Georgia will have to cross a few additional hurdles, under one of the dozens of new laws set to take effect on the Sunday start of the new fiscal year.
    The ‘‘Women’s Right to Know Act’’ requires that medical providers offer a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy a look at an ultrasound image of her fetus as well as an opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat if one is present. The woman could refuse but she would have to sign a form confirming that the offer had been made.
    The new law was a top priority this past legislative session for abortion opponents in Georgia, who said they hoped it would change the minds of some women seeking abortions.
    Josh Brahm, a spokesman for Georgia Right Life, said his organization is emboldened by their success on the ultrasound bill this year and will push next year for passage of constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception.
    One sponsor of the ultrasound bill, state Sen. Nancy Schaefer, said she hopes it stops women considering abortion.
    ‘‘It is our hope that many lives will be saved,’’ the Republican from Turnerville said.
    Abortion rights activists said the bill sought to confuse women and did not make an exception for women traumatized by rape and incest.
    ‘‘It does little more than to frighten and intimidate women at a vulnerable point in their lives,’’ said Leola Reis, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Georgia.
    Doctors who fail to comply with the new law could face disciplinary action from the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners. The state Department of Human Resources is charged with compiling information from medical providers on how many woman chose to see the ultrasound image or hear the heartbeat.
    Parts of the sweeping immigration law Georgia lawmakers passed last year are also set to take effect on Sunday. The law requires public employers and contractors doing business with them to use a federal work authorization program to verify that all new hires are in the country lawfully.
    Georgia will also begin verifying that anyone over age 18 who is receiving benefits is in the country legally. Some police officers in Georgia will get training to enforce immigration laws and mandates. People arrested for felonies and DUIs will have their immigration status verified.
    Among the other laws taking effect on Sunday:
    —Parents could decide whether twins, or other multiple siblings, should be should placed in the same classroom if they are in the same grade level. That choice had been left up to the school district.
    —A measure makes clear that it is illegal for a minor to attempt to purchase cigarettes. Violators could be punished with 20 hours of community service.
    —Health care providers must screen pregnant women for HIV unless they specifically decline. Women must be informed of the availability of the test and their right to refuse.
    —A trauma care commission is established to shore up the state’s struggling network of emergency care providers. The law also establishes a trust fund, although lawmakers failed to appropriate money to put in the fund.
    —Charter Schools would receive a boost as the state creates a pilot program in which five systems would be allowed to pursue charter status. The new law’s sponsor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, said that the groundwork will take place in the coming year, with the actual conversions expected to take placed in the 2008 school year.
    —Cable operators will be able to apply for a franchise through the state instead of having to go through the lengthy process of negotiating deals with individual counties and cities. The measure was among the most heavily lobbied at the state Capitol this year, with AT&T leading the charge. The new law makes it easier for AT&T to debut television services to compete with cable providers. Consumer advocates say it could drive prices down.
    —Georgia motorists must obtain a valid state driver’s license before they can pick up a tag for their car. The legislation would effectively make it harder for illegal immigrants to get behind the wheel.
    —Georgia can delay participation in the federal Real ID Act, requiring all states to bring their driver’s licenses under a national standard and to link their record-keeping systems. Georgia lawmakers want better assurance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the effort will not compromise the privacy of Georgia citizens. Georgia is one of a number of states that have balked at implementing the act, which federal officials say is needed to prevent terrorists and illegal immigrants from obtaining fake IDs.
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    On The Net:
    Georgia General Assembly: www.legis.ga.gov

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