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New Ga. laws kick in Jan. 1
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, seated, hands a pen to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston on Monday, March 22, 2021, at the state capitol in Atlanta after signing a tax cut bill. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Income tax breaks for many Georgians, new requirements for physicians to be trained about avoiding sexual assault, and pay raises for some judges are among new legal provisions taking effect Saturday in Georgia.

Most Georgia laws took effect on July 1, but the General Assembly delayed some, or parts of some, until Jan. 1, including provisions for annual taxes.

Among measures that took effect earlier this year were Georgia's restrictive new election law, a ban on cities and counties sharply cutting police spending, three weeks of paid parental leave for nearly 250,000 state, public university and public school employees and a law that makes it a felony to steal packages from three or more different addresses.

Here's a look at some new laws and provisions that begin Jan. 1:

INCOME TAX BREAKS: House Bill 593 increases the amount people can earn before they start paying state taxes. The standard deduction for an individual will rise from $4,600 to $5,400, while the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly will rise from $6,000 to $7,100. The tax cut will save individual tax filers up to $43 a year, and married couples filing jointly up to $63. The cut will reduce Georgia's overall income tax collections by an estimated $140 million. Georgians may not notice it until 2023, when they file income tax returns for 2022.

TEACHER TAX BREAKS: House Bill 32 gives some Georgia teachers who agree to work in certain rural and low performing schools as much as $3,000 a year off their state income taxes for five years. The break is limited to 1,000 teachers. Those who don't incur $3,000 in state income tax liability in a year can carry the credits forward for up to three years. However, the state won't pay any remaining amount in cash, as had been proposed in a previous version of the bill.

JUDICIAL PAY: House Bill 488 raises pay for chief magistrates, judges in each county who handle evictions, county ordinance violations, bad check cases, warrants and some preliminary hearings. The chief magistrate in the state's least populous counties will make at least $36,288 up from $29,832, with pay rising in steps according to a county's population. At the top step, in the four counties with more than 500,000 people, judges will make at least $133,107, up from $109,426. The bill also provides pay raises for part-time judges and probate judges who also handle magistrate judge duties.

PHYSICIAN SEXUAL ABUSE: House Bill 458 requires physicians, medical students, dentists and members of the state medical board to be trained about professional boundaries and avoiding sexual misconduct. Parts of the law that took effect earlier allow the Georgia Composite Medical Board to revoke or suspend a physician's license if they are convicted of sexually assaulting a patient and requires doctors to report fellow doctors who have sexually abused patients. Jan. 1 is also the deadline for the medical board to begin reporting on its handling of abuse cases. The law followed an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation chronicling doctors who abused patients but were allowed to continue practicing.

JUVENILE COURT: Senate Bill 28 allows juvenile courts to consider hearsay evidence in what Gov. Brian Kemp has said is an effort to make sure all reliable information is available to the court to decide a child's best interests. The measure also requires juvenile court intake officers to get annual training. It explicitly outlaws a caregiver from placing a child in "sexual servitude," outlaws emotional abuse, strengthens temporary foster care arrangements, and redefines neglect and abandonment.

HEALTH INSURANCE: Senate Bill 80 sets new standards for how health insurers decide in advance on whether to pay for medical procedures. The law says prior authorization isn't allowed for emergency services or emergency ambulance transport. Insurers must decide on authorizing urgent services within 72 hours after a claim is submitted. For other services, in 2022 they will have 15 days to decide on claims, while in 2023 that falls to seven days. The law also requires insurers to publish their prior authorization requirements and to give the clinical reason a service is being denied. They also must publish yearly statistics about authorization approvals and denials, including reasons for denials and outcomes of appeals.

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