Austin's Law signed by governor in Valdosta

Apr. 30—VALDOSTA — With a flourish of pens, Georgia's governor signed a number of bills into law during a visit to Valdosta Tuesday, ranging from an anti-fentanyl law spurred on by a Lowndes County family's tragedy to a law restricting foreign ownership of Georgia agricultural land.

About 100 people attended Gov. Brian Kemp's signing event at the Lowndes County Civic Center, including city, county and state officials.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper said the bundle of laws would greatly support rural Georgians and the state's agricultural community.

Among the bills signed into law by Kemp:

— Senate Bill 465, known as "Austin's Law," creating the offense of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, allowing the conviction of anyone who causes a death by manufacturing or selling a substance containing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Austin Walters of Lowndes County died Sept. 9, 2021, after swallowing a Xanax pill he purchased on the street, his father, Gus Walters, said. He didn't know it had been spiked with fentanyl, which is not a Xanax ingredient, Gus Walters said.

No arrest was ever made, even though evidence was gathered pointing to a suspect, Walters said in an earlier interview with the Times.

"At the time, the authorities thought they couldn't arrest the guy for anything more than a misdemeanor," he said, "because there weren't any laws that dealt with fentanyl."

Austin Walters' family gathered around the governor as he signed the bill into law. Austin's Law provides for penalties of one to 10 years in prison for offenders.

— SB420, which would prohibit sale of Georgia farmlands to agents of foreign powers, including land within 10 miles of a military base.

Although the bill does not mention any foreign power by name, Harper specifically mentioned China and the Chinese Communist Party during his speech Tuesday.

A similar law passed in Florida last year has been criticized by some as discrimination and is facing challenges in federal court.

— SB340, which exempts diesel exhaust fluid from taxation.

— SB494, allowing for state power to regulate the hemp industry. Kemp signed a bill allowing the sale of industrialized hemp in Georgia in 2019 during a visit to Echols County.

— House Bill 427, increasing penalties for livestock theft.

— SB436, which revises definitions of farm use vehicles.

— HB455, exempting programs that deal with career fatigue and wellness in healthcare professionals from reporting to licensing boards.

— HB906, adding a third judge to the Tifton Judicial Circuit. The initial judge would be appointed by the governor, with their successors elected. The circuit includes Irwin, Tift, Turner, and Worth counties.

— HB1335, revising staffing requirements for personal care homes and assisted living communities. All personal care homes with 25 or more beds would have to maintain an average of one direct-care staff member for every 15 patients during waking hours and one for every 20 patients at night.