New laws restrict pain clinics, loosen home brew rules

In a kind of one-two punch, new laws take effect today in Georgia that make it easier to brew large amounts of beer at home, yet also increase the time repeat DUI offenders must use locking devices on their cars.

The laws are just two of more than 130 bills taking effect today, the first day of the 2014 fiscal year. Among the newly minted laws are a crackdown on pain management clinics, a return to a lower standard for HOPE grants for technical college students, and the transferring of the state archives to the Board of Regents.

For home brewers, House Bill 99 doubles the amount of beer they can produce annually from 50 gallons to 100 gallons. But the real change, home brew aficionado Coleman Wood said, is that these budding brewmeisters can now legally transport their beer to home-brewing competitions, which also are now legal.

Wood, who writes the Cheers Y’all blog, said other states hold hundreds of home-brew festivals and competitions a year. In Georgia, if they’ve been held at all, it’s been under the radar.

“It is a way for all these home brewers to get together and sample each other’s beer,” Wood said. “It will bring home brewers out of their homes and more into a public space.”

Other new laws taking effect today include:

  • Tougher penalties for repeat DUI offenders. House Bill 407 increases from eight to 12 months the time repeat DUI offenders must use interlock devices on their cars. The interlock requires the driver to blow into a tube connected to the device that measures blood alcohol content. The car won’t start if the device registers BAC at a certain level.
  • Technical college students who earn at least a 2.0 grade point average can qualify for HOPE grants again under HB 372. Thousands of students lost the benefit when that threshold was raised to 3.0. HOPE scholarship recipients must still maintain a 3.0.
  • Pain clinics must now be licensed by the state medical board, have those licenses renewed every two years and be doctor-owned, thanks to HB 178. Before today, pain clinics were unregulated; convicted felons and those with no health care background could own them. Critics contend those lax rules led some of the clinics to become “pill mills,” where powerful prescription drugs were easily obtained.
  • The Division of Archives and History, previously assigned to the Secretary of State, now is part of the Board of Regents. Budget cuts to Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office had threatened public access to the state archives; a legislative compromise was reached to move it to the Board of Regents.

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