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Thanks to nearly a dozen laws passed this year in Arkansas' 92nd General Assembly, obtaining a state driver's license just got a little easier -- especially for teenagers and inmates in the state correctional systems.

The new measures include eliminating a grade requirement for teenagers and expanding the time frame in which the prison system can help inmates and those on probation or parole to obtain driver's licenses.

The influx of new laws has the Arkansas State Police -- which administers the state driver's license program -- scrambling to put the changes in place and disseminate the information to the state's 134 revenue offices.

"Once the Arkansas State Police commanders have met to review all the acts that came out of the most recent session, we will prepare a summary for the driver's license examiners to be educated on what will be expected of them in their day-to-day operations," said state police spokesman Bill Sadler. "It's standard operating procedure after a session."

"As a result of this legislation, Revenue Office agents will be receiving updated training and instructional documents that clearly address these new policies," Scott Hardin, state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman, said in an email. "Following this, several DFA Administrators will travel to each region of the state to provide agents instruction and demonstrate new processes."

The timetable to implement the changes will depend on the effective dates of the laws, Sadler added.

The laws don't have emergency clauses, so they will take effect 90 days after the regular legislative session ends. The lawmakers are expected to meet Wednesday to permanently adjourn.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Teen drivers saw three laws make it on the books this session to simplify the path to get a learner's permit or driver's license. Among them was Act 617, by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, and Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, which reversed a nearly 30-year law that required students under 18 to show proof that they had at least a C average during the previous semester.

Act 617 not only did away with the school-grade requirement, but it also states that a passing score on a written driving examination will be valid for 24 months.

Dotson said he's heard from schools and parents alike who are overjoyed that they will no longer have the "headache and hassle" of processing the form verifying that a student made the academic cut.

He first heard of the 1993 law when he took his 15-year-old daughter to a revenue office several months ago to apply for the written test.

"This was probably the most well-received piece of legislation I've ever submitted," Dotson said. "The only question I got was, 'Why isn't there an emergency clause on this?'"

Act 596 by Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway, extended the time teens have to trade in their intermediate driver's licenses to 30 days past their 18th birthdays -- as long as within the previous 12 months they've been free of serious accidents and have not been convicted of serious traffic violations.

Parents of teenage drivers got a break under Act 961 by Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock. The parents or guardians of teens under 18 years old are no longer required to appear in person to sign the minors' driver's license applications.

Several laws affecting those in the criminal justice and state correctional systems were passed this session, loosening the requirements for individuals to obtain driver's licenses.

Act 69 by Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, gives the Arkansas correctional system more time to help those in the state prison and parole or probation programs obtain driver's licenses. The new law expands the time period for assistance, from within 180 days of release to those who have been released for up to six months from the custody of the state Department of Correction or the state Department of Community Correction. Previously, only those within 180 days of their release from custody were eligible for assistance.

The law also makes a restricted driver's license possible for those on parole or probation, or those who are within 90 days of release, if their driver's licenses were suspended for offenses that don't involve motor vehicles.

"This will greatly help ACC's efforts of getting offenders the licenses they need to be able to keep employment. It's difficult to land and keep a job if you can't get to work," said Dina Tyler, Community Correction spokesman. "We work with offenders prior to release, but sometimes we run out of time and can't get everything done before they're paroled. Early release due to the Emergency Powers Act can really shorten the time. This legislation increases the window for securing driver's licenses, restricted driving permits and identification cards for offenders. That's all it does; it gives us more time."

The effort will be helped by Senate Bill 493 -- by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton -- which was recently signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and awaits an act number. The bill would allow someone whose driver's license has remained suspended or revoked solely as a result of unpaid driver's license reinstatement fees to pay only one $100 reinstatement fee to cover all administrative orders to suspend, revoke or cancel a driver's license. The option is available only to drug-court graduates and cannot be used more than one time.

Act 704, by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, and Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, will allow judges in drug courts to give exceptions if "compelling circumstances" warrant them when deciding whether to suspend the driving privileges of people who plead or are found guilty of illegal possession or use of a controlled substance.

"This gives us more permissive language for the courts so we can help those folks make a living," Johnson said. "It will just help the courts by giving them some flexibility if they feel that it's warranted."

Also passed during the legislative session was House Bill 1947 -- signed recently by Hutchinson and awaiting an act number -- which extends the required eye test to eight or 16 years, depending on whether a four-year or eight-year driver's license is being obtained.

Among the new laws is Act 66, by Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, which includes those who served in the Air National Guard or Army National Guard as among those who can obtain veteran designations on their driver's licenses or identification cards.

Maj. Will Phillips, spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said he appreciates the "fact that our state legislators recognize that there is parity among Guardsmen" and those who served on active duty.

"This law gets rid of that distinction between reservists and active-duty soldiers. We have the same training. We also hold full-time jobs and go to school. We all serve," Phillips said. "This eliminates the stigma that National Guardsmen are less than. We are all soldiers or airmen."

A Section on 04/22/2019

Print Headline: New laws on licenses ease path for Arkansas drivers

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