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New laws set to take effect today in state

Measures OK’d in 2015 cover abortion, taxes, catfish label by Spencer Willems | January 1, 2016 at 5:50 a.m.

Taxes, abortion procedures and catfish will all be affected by laws that take effect today.

The vast majority of new laws from the 2015 legislative session have already gone into effect, but other new or revised statutes kick in today, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

One such law -- which would require medical abortion providers to follow dosage guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration as well as require abortion providers to contract with a physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital -- is being challenged in federal court by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a two-week temporary restraining order in the case.

Another statute, one that has not been challenged in court, is Act 934, which builds on the state law requiring parental consent for a minor's abortion.

Act 934 added a requirement that an adult accompanying a minor for abortion services must show proof of identity that the adult is a parent or a guardian.

A minor fearing she could be harmed by her parents once the pregnancy becomes known can get a court order to waive the parental consent.

But according to the new law, the minor would have to go to a judge in her home county and not just any state court.

Supporters of the law said the additions will make the abortion process safe. Critics believe the new law goes too far and could endanger a minor seeking an abortion, according to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokesman Susan Allen.

A minor seeking a judicial bypass could be faced with a troubled home life or dangerous consequences, she said in a statement.

"While it's extremely rare for a minor to seek a judicial waiver, it's a vital option. Every person's situation is different, and a young person needs to have all options available when it comes to her health and safety," she said.

Asked if her organization planned to file a legal challenge to Act 934, Allen said her organization does not comment on legal strategy.

Today is the first day when an estimated 597,000 taxpayers will see less of their money going to state taxes.

Early in the legislative session, first-term Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson made good on his campaign promise for a middle-class tax cut, reducing taxes for those with taxable incomes between $21,000 and $75,000.

For taxpayers earning between $21,000 and $35,000 a year, rates will fall from 6 to 5 percent while those making between $35,100 and $75,000 will see their rates fall from 7 to 6 percent.

Estimates from state finance officials are that the state will lose about $22 million in revenue from the end of fiscal 2016 and then about $90 million the next year.

Also today, food distributors and retailers will have to more clearly identify the source of any catfish-like food.

Businesses will have to identify the source of their catfish or catfish-like products as being imported, farm-raised or other designations.

If imported, a restaurant will have to disclose the source of the fish if asked by a customer.

Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, comes from a family of former catfish growers. He said that Act 1191 is about ensuring quality control for consumers and protecting domestic catfish farmers from substitutes that are imported and sold often under the label of being catfish.

By federal trade law, a restaurant cannot call catfish-like fish coming form southeast Asia catfish. Gray said restaurants often skirt around this by calling it "Southern Fried Fish" or "Delta Raised Fish."

The problem, Gray said, was consumers often assume the "Delta Raised Fish" refers to catfish raised in the Mississippi Delta, not the Mekong Delta.

"If somebody goes to a restaurant and eats a fish that tastes funny, tastes bad, smells bad, gets them sick, then they think it's catfish. They aren't eating catfish again and they're telling their friends not to," Gray said. "In Vietnam, they don't have the same standards. ... A farmer in Chicot County has to get his tested and tasted three times to make sure it's good before he can sell to you. ... [Some fish] in places overseas, they're being fed in sewer ponds."

Some other laws that go into effect, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research:

• Act 741 (SB424) requires that commissions derived from prisoner telephone services and profits earned from prisoner commissary services in county and regional detention facilities be deposited with the county treasurer with the funds credited to the county sheriff's office. The act further provides that Arkansas Legislative Audit, formerly known as the Legislative Audit Division, shall review the relevant entities' actions for substantial compliance with the statutory requirements.

• Act 1193 (HB1878) provides that between Jan. 1, 2016, and June 30, 2016, a person whose driving privileges are suspended or revoked solely as a result of outstanding driver's license reinstatement fees is eligible to pay a one-time driver's license reinstatement fee of $100 if the person has paid all costs, fines and fees associated with his driver's license suspension and has successfully completed a specialty court program.

• Act 343 (HB1359) extends the expiration period for a driver's license to eight years from the date the license was issued.

• Act 702 (HB1613) creates a program that authorizes the Office of Driver Services to monitor certain driver records and furnish driver monitoring reports to insurers.

• Act 744 (HB1464) revises the membership of the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission, including increasing the membership of the board from 13 to 15 members and amending the requirements for appointments to the board.

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