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New laws go into effect Wednesday
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ATLANTA - The beginning of July ushers in a slew of new laws in Georgia, including a measure that seeks to celebrate the Confederacy while also honoring a civil rights leader, tighter rules targeting a long-time scourge of cotton farmers and a pair of new laws long sought by prosecutors as a way to strengthen victim's rights.

Those measures and dozens of others are set to take effect on Wednesday, the first day of July. And while many of the new laws aren't among the most high-profile legislation, many are the result of hard-fought legislative battles that could have profound impact.

Prosecutors groups, for one, are thrilled that a measure allowing relatives and friends of victims to testify through prerecorded audio or video is taking effect.

Georgia law has long required the victims to testify in person and without any emotion about the crime's impact, requirements that were sometimes too stiff for grieving family members to take the stand. The new law, supporters say, will mean that they will not be silenced again.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, who signed the bill into law in April, said it would give those supporters "the opportunity for their voices to be heard in a court of justice where all the facts and all the problems can be revealed to those that make those decisions."

Victims advocates are also cheering another measure that goes into effect Wednesday that gives victims who have suffered a mental injury broader access to state-funded counseling and therapy services. The law previously extended that help only to victims who suffered a physical injury.

Atlanta's cash-strapped subway system could get a boost under a new law that allows transit systems to allow food and beverages to be consumed in rail and bus stations - effectively allowing MARTA to earn more revenue by selling food and drinks.

"This will significantly help MARTA and other transit systems around Georgia bring in additional revenues during these difficult economic times," said state Sen. Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat who sponsored the measure.

A measure that tightens requirements on Georgia's boll weevil eradication program takes effect, as does a law that would allow children of active duty military personnel stationed in Georgia to meet the residency requirements of the state's popular HOPE scholarship program.

Perhaps the most unique bill is an odd two-for-one that designates the month of April as "Confederate History and Heritage Month" in Georgia. The measure's supporters said it would be a boon to the state's tourism industry and help encourage visitors to come to Georgia's Civil War battlefields.

It attracted surprisingly little opposition for black legislative leaders, who in part swayed because of new language added during the legislative session's final hours that designated Savannah's Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum an official state civil rights museum.

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