Distracted driving. Alcohol sales on Sunday. An income tax cut. The splitting of Stockbridge. Criminal justice reform — Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a huge number of weighty bills coming out of the 2018 legislative session.
Deal finished signing legislation from the recent Georgia General Assembly session on Tuesday, May 8. Dozens of bills were signed in the days after the session concluded, but Deal also vetoed a record 21 bills this year.
On May 2, Deal signed House Bill 673 into law, which tightens up Georgia’s distracted driving restrictions for motorists.
It will be a crime to operate a phone with any part of the body while driving when House Bill 673 hits the streets in July, and the bill’s sponsor told The Times this month that the new law will save lives and lower auto insurance premiums for Georgia car owners.
“Insurance rates have increased dramatically all over the state, especially in the metro areas. We decided to look at that and go through a study committee, and … it kept coming back to distracted driving,” said John Carson, R-Marietta.
That bill takes effect July 1. State and local law enforcement have planned a 90-day grace period and public information campaign to help Georgians adapt to the new rules.
But the state’s new laws aren’t all new restrictions: On Tuesday, Deal signed the “brunch bill,” which allows earlier alcohol sales in restaurants on Sundays.
Senate Bill 17 allows restaurants to begin selling alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, provided a local ballot referendum is approved in a popular vote.
When SB 17 cleared the Georgia Senate, Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis, of Chickamauga, said he was against expanding alcohol sales but was in favor of the bill because it gives local communities the ability to decide whether or not to allow earlier sales.
“If this ever came to Chickamauga, … I would want my constituents to have the right to vote,” Mullis said. “I support the right to the ballot.”
Previous state law restricted sales to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays for restaurants and grocers alike. SB 17 applies to restaurants, but not grocers.
The ballot language would read, “Shall the governing authority of (name of municipality or county) be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.?” according to the law.
Earlier in the session, Deal signed an income tax cut into law in the form of House Bill 918.
Signed in March, the law reduces the state income tax to head off an estimated $3.6 billion income tax windfall for state government generated by changes to federal tax law.
Increases of the standard deduction at the federal level, along with other changes to deductions and exemptions, would have created the huge tax haul for the state and a tax increase for state residents.
“This bill keeps more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in their pockets by doubling the standard deduction and reducing income tax rates,” Deal said in late February. “It will save taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years.”
State Republicans touted the bill as a massive tax cut for Georgians, but it essentially holds state revenue steady because of changes to taxes at the federal level.
Other significant bills include Senate Bill 262, which will allow Stockbridge to split into two cities — some have worried that the bill opens the door to future de-annexation efforts in the state — and Deal’s own Senate Bill 407, the final piece of his statewide criminal justice reform.