Starting Monday, law enforcement agencies in Georgia will be required to keep evidence in unsolved sexual assault cases for five times longer than they’ve had to in the past.
House Bill 282 is one of several new state laws that is automatically set to go into effect July 1. It mandates that the evidence must be kept for 50 years.
Law enforcement had previously only been required to keep the evidence for 10 years.
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, whose district includes a small part of Gwinnett county in the Peachtree Corners area. State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, carried it in the Senate.
“This bill builds upon our state’s prior work to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits,” Holcomb said in a statement after the bill was signed into law in early May. “Now that we have the evidence, we need to preserve it. And bring cases.”
A bevy of new laws go into effect Monday and while the hotly debated “heartbill bill” is not among them — it’s set to go into effect at the end of the year — there are still major issues addressed in some of the new laws that kick in this week.
In addition to preserving sexual assault evidence for longer periods of time, new rules to fight human trafficking and target people who sexually assault individuals in their care are some of the laws that go into effect Monday.
One of those bills, Senate Bill 158, is aimed at broadening protections for human trafficking victims and suspected victims. The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, as well as local law enforcement, would be required to refer victims to certified victim services organizations while the traffickers would face a fine of up to $100,000 on top of 10 to 20 years in prison.
The bill was authored by state Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, and Unterman was a co-sponsor.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 9 makes it a crime to engage in “sexual extortion,” which is the coercing of a person to send nude images, videos or any other form of electronic communication in which the person is performing a sex act. A first-time offense would be treated as a misdemeanor, but subsequent offenses would be treated as felonies with a punishment of one to five years in prison.
The law also makes “improper sexual contact by an employee or agent” a crime. That means it is illegal for a person to engage in sexual conduct with an individual who is under their supervision.
The punishment for a first-degree offense would be one to 25 years in prison and/or a fine of $100,000. A second-degree offense would be treated as a misdemeanor.
State Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, was a co-signer on Senate Bill 9.
Some of the other laws going into effect Monday include:
House Bill 12:♦ Public schools will be required to post signs that contain a child abuse or neglect reporting hotline phone number that will be maintained by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
House Bill 64:♦ Child welfare agencies would be required to notify a military installation’s family advocacy program and military law enforcement if an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces has been accused of child abuse.
House Bill 62:♦ Medical providers will be required to inform female patients if, during a mammogram, they have dense breast tissue that makes it harder to detect breast cancer and increases cancer risks.
House Bill 218:♦ The HOPE scholarship eligibility period for students will be extended to 10 years after they graduate from high school — if they graduate after July 1.
Senate Bill 170:♦ State-owned properties, including buildings and memorials, which fly the U.S. flag, will be required to fly an “Honor and Remember” flag honoring veterans and active duty service members on: Armed Forces Day; Memorial Day; Flag Day; the Fourth of July; Gold Star Mother’s Day; National POW-MIA Recognition Day; Veterans Day; and on any day when a member of the U.S. armed forces from Georgia loses his or her life.
House Bill 346:♦ Landlords would be barred from engaging in retaliatory actions against tenants who reported them to government agencies for building or housing code violations, took legal action against them or gave notice to either repair an issue or face action pursued against them.
House Bill 228: The minimum age to get married will be raised from 16 to 17. A 17-year old would still have to be emancipated before they could get married, however.