Raft of new Arkansas laws passed in session kick in this week; execution drug, school rules among legislation set to go

The alligator gar, such as this one netted by Game and Fish researchers, will become the state’s official primitive fish as new state laws take effect Wednesday, 91 days after adjournment of the General Assembly.
The alligator gar, such as this one netted by Game and Fish researchers, will become the state’s official primitive fish as new state laws take effect Wednesday, 91 days after adjournment of the General Assembly.

Arkansas' first outdoor entertainment district will open Wednesday, and the state Department of Correction can restart its search for the drugs needed to execute prisoners on death row.

All of the laws passed by the Arkansas General Assembly during its legislative session earlier this year take effect Wednesday, 91 days after the session adjourned, unless they contained an emergency clause that allowed their implementation immediately or by a specific date.

As of Wednesday, the state will have an official primitive fish, the alligator gar, and the sale of raw sheep's milk will be legal.

Lawmakers passed 1,092 bills during the session that officially ended April 24. Just under 400 of those bills, mostly budget-related, contained emergency clauses, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis of online legislative records.

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After a session adjourns, citizens have 90 days to file referendum petitions to try to block new laws from taking effect.

As of Friday, only a group seeking to stop Act 579 from taking effect was gathering signatures to get such a referendum on the November 2020 ballot. Act 579 by Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, would expand the scope of practice of optometrists, allowing them to perform eye surgeries.

Alex Gray, a Little Rock attorney who represents the Safe Surgery Arkansas committee, said if the group turns in the required 53,493 signatures of registered voters to the state secretary of state's office on Tuesday, Act 579 will be suspended until the 2020 statewide vote.

"We're looking good," he said when asked if the group would submit the requisite signatures.

Meanwhile, a court hearing early this week could block some or all of a series of laws that would go into effect Wednesday and further restrict abortion in Arkansas.

Other laws created by the 92nd General Assembly affect government regulations on certain industries.

For example, Act 504 by Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, legalizes hemp-derived cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, as long at it's certified by a laboratory to contain less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. THC is the intoxicating compound of cannabis.

Also Wednesday, Act 677 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, will take effect, prohibiting telemarketers and robocallers from using misleading or fake names on caller ID, commonly called "spoofing."

Parents who lose custody of their children to foster care will be able to visit with their children for at least four hours a week when Act 558 goes into effect Wednesday.

Amy Webb, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, said some jurisdictions have already implemented the increased visitation times.

"For those jurisdictions that have not had this level of visitation in the past, there may be some challenges to adjusting," Webb said in an email. She noted that Act 558 allows a court to order less than four hours of supervised visitation if that is in the best interest of the child.

Another group of laws would add or subtract from Arkansas' criminal and civil codes.

Act 476 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, requires a criminal conviction before assets seized by law enforcement officials can be forfeited in most cases.

Act 962 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, makes it a Class D felony to encourage another person to kill himself if the encouragement causes the person to die by suicide or to seriously injure himself.

Several state highways will receive new branding starting Wednesday. The portion of Arkansas 22 between Dardanelle and Fort Smith will be dubbed the "True Grit Trail," and parts of Interstate 630 in Little Rock and part of Arkansas 163 North between Jonesboro and Forrest City will become the "Gold Star Families Highway." Arkansas 549 in Northwest Arkansas, as well as routes in central Arkansas, will be labeled as scenic highways.


The Arkansas Department of Correction will be able Wednesday to begin anew its search for the proper drugs to carry out executions as a result of Act 810, which allows the state to keep secret nearly all information about the drugs it obtains.

Prison officials have attributed Arkansas' two-year hiatus on executions to difficulties in acquiring new drugs because drug providers don't want to sell to the state for fear of being publicly identified. Act 810 makes it a felony to disclose information that could lead to the identification of a supplier of execution drugs.

Lawmakers also passed Act 615, which clarifies the director of the Department of Correction's role in determining the mental competency of condemned inmates.

The new law "needs to be in place so the process can be carried out," said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor.

A spokesman for the Department of Correction said she was not aware of any discussions to resume the search for drugs once the new law is in place.

No executions are scheduled.


While conservative lawmakers succeeded in passing legislation that would give Arkansas some of the most restrictive abortion statutes in the nation, it remains uncertain whether several key provisions of those efforts will go into effect this week.

A hearing set for Monday at the federal courthouse in Little Rock will concern a legal challenge to three laws. Acts 619, 700 and 493 are being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and a number of abortion clinics and providers.

Act 493 is commonly referred to as Arkansas' 18-weeks abortion ban, also known as the "Cherish Act."

The text of the new law specifies that the 18 weeks be counted since a woman's last period, or up to around 16 weeks post-fertilization. If allowed to take effect, the law would place the most restrictive time period on abortions in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Act 700 adds to the qualifications necessary to perform abortions, and Act 619 prohibits the abortion of a fetus with Down syndrome.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is defending the laws in court. In a statement Friday, her office said it expects all abortion-related acts to go into effect Wednesday.

Another abortion-related statute, Act 180, would prohibit all non-medically necessary abortions in the state, but it goes into effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Neither the ACLU nor Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains returned requests for comment.


Beginning Wednesday, cities can establish "entertainment districts" where alcohol can be consumed outside the bar or restaurant where it was purchased thanks to Act 812 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado.

Garner said the bill aimed to give cities the option of creating the districts to spur economic development and tourism.

Mountain Home and El Dorado have already passed ordinances creating such districts. Officials in Texarkana, Pine Bluff, Little Rock and several other cities have expressed interest in creating the districts.

Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams said an eight-square-block district in the heart of downtown will open Wednesday. The district will be open every day from 4:30 p.m. to midnight, Adams said, noting that he'd already heard from several potential new businesses that want to locate there.

"There's been a buzz about it in the community," Adams said. "We're just anxious to get some growth going downtown. We recently had several hundred people coming to town for a fishing tournament. You want those folks when they're here to say, 'Hey, there's this neat place downtown where we can go and hang out for a few hours' instead of staying in the hotel room all night or going to a fast-food place."


Public elementary schools in the fall must begin providing at least 40 minutes of recess every school day as a result of Act 641 by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers.

Recess, under the law, counts as "instructional time," meaning no school district must lengthen the school day to comply with the new legislation.

Della Rosa said research indicates that more recess time won't take away from learning, despite decreasing the number hours in a classroom. The theory, she said, is that recess gives students a break, thereby reducing disciplinary issues and improving focus in the classroom.

The benefits of more unstructured play time, Della Rosa said, extend beyond that. It yields better social development and physical fitness.

"You learn a lot on the playground that you can't learn with an adult standing over you in a classroom," she said. "Kids need more freedom to make their own choices and see what happens. Learn what happens when you're not nice to your friends. It's not that the teacher is going to put you in a corner; it's that your friends aren't going to play with you."

Act 548 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, expanded the Succeed Scholarship eligibility requirements to include current private school students who have individualized service plans. The program provides vouchers to students with disabilities and those in foster care to attend eligible private schools.

Act 430, also by Lowery, requires public school districts to allow home-schooled students to enroll in individual classes at public schools.

In higher education, Act 184 by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, does away with "free-speech zones" at public colleges and universities. The law came in response to several publicized incidents of controversial speakers being uninvited from appearances at universities in other states. Only the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University had free-speech zones before Ballinger's legislation.

Other education legislation to take effect includes:

• Act 428 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, which prohibits stigmatizing a student whose parents or guardians have failed to pay his lunch bill.

• Act 1016 by Rep. Joe Cloud, R-Russellville, which requires the state Education Department to develop a Bible class curriculum.

• Act 557 by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, which prohibits public schools from spanking intellectually disabled, non-ambulatory, nonverbal or autistic students.


Act 1068 by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, allows the secretary of state's office to begin fundraising for replacing the state's two statues on display at the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The General Assembly voted that statues of Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash will replace statues of Uriah Rose and James Clarke.

Kurt Naumann, director of administration and government relations, said the secretary of state's office would post instructions for donating to the project on its website Wednesday or shortly after.

"We have scheduled a conference call with the Architect of the Capitol for next week to verify/clarify all of the various federal requirements, paperwork, processes," Naumann said in an email through a spokesman.

He added that there must be federal legislation and a request from Gov. Asa Hutchinson before the statues can be changed.

During the legislative session, lawmakers said the project should be funded privately. Once funding is secured, the office will begin the formal process of selecting a sculptor and relocating the existing statues, Naumann said.


A handful of new laws will pave the way for wider public use of all-terrain vehicles, a single-operator vehicle built to handle varying off-road terrains that most cars and trucks cannot traverse.

• Act 1048 by Rep. John Maddox, R-Mena, allows employees of the Department of Parks and Tourism to operate a department-owned ATV on a public street or highway, but only if the vehicle is used in performance of their job duties.

• Act 794, also sponsored by Maddox, frees private-property owners from liability for an injury to or the death of a person resulting from ATV use on their property.

• Act 654, by Rep. LeAnne Burch, D-Monticello, allows law enforcement officers to charge operators of ATVs or tractors and other agricultural equipment with driving while intoxicated. The new law makes clear that it is not intended to provide a way for police to enter onto private land without probable cause or other lawful reasons.

• Act 671, by Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, authorizes the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committees to conduct a study of ATV tourism and trail expansion opportunities in the state. Much of the state's ATV trails are within national forests.


Act 169 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, establishes a veterinary technologist certification and a veterinary technician specialist certification, and allows such technicians to perform their services without a veterinarian present.

Under the new law, the licensed veterinarian can give written or oral instructions for the treatment of an animal and must be "readily available" either in person or through electronic and communication technology.

Other new animal-related laws include:

• Act 286 by Capp, which allows horse or animal massage therapy to be performed without a license.

• Act 139 by Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, allows chiropractic services on animals to be provided without licensed veterinarian supervision.

• Act 886 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, doubles the fee from $5 to $10 for a lifetime trout stamp and from $12 to $17 for a lifetime state duck stamp.

• Act 729, by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, allows a disabled veteran to obtain a lifetime combination hunting and fishing license that includes a lifetime trout stamp and lifetime duck stamp for $52.50.


Antique cars, school buses and teen drivers are covered in several new laws.

• Act 368 by Rep. Jack Fortner, R-Yellville, raises the minimum age for an antique vehicle designation to 45 years in order to obtain specialty license plates. The law also requires antique-vehicle owners to provide yearly proof of current auto insurance coverage.

• Act 586 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, raises the fee charged for obtaining a person's driving record from $7 to $8.50, with $1.50 of the fee going to the Department of Arkansas State Police Fund, $1 to the state's Commercial Driver License Fund and the remaining $6 going to the state Highway and Transportation Department Fund. Johnson said the fee, expected to generate up to $1.8 million a year, has been in existence since 1989. Information broker Lexis-Nexis is the main consumer of the data, which compiles it for insurance companies.

• Act 617 by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, no longer requires teen drivers under 18 to have to prove they have C averages or above in school before being issued learners permits or driver's licenses. The law also caps the validity of a passing score on a written examination at two years.

• Act 166 by Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, enhances the penalties for drivers who illegally pass school buses while "demonstrating a reckless disregard for safety." The penalty for such an offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine.


Act 652 by Gazaway allows pharmacists to administer vaccines and immunizations to children 7-18 years old without prescriptions.

Gazaway said extending pharmacists' authority would help improve the state's immunization rates and prevent disease outbreaks.

Other new health-related laws include:

• Act 697 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, requires funeral homes to have "access" to a refrigeration unit within a reasonable time after death instead of having the appliance on-site.

• Act 793 by Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, provides an option for people who use the state Game and Fish Commission website to apply for hunting and fishing licenses to check the box that they want to donate their bodies to science upon their deaths.

• Act 312 by Rep. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, no longer requires massage therapists to provide proof of negative tuberculosis tests before being licensed.


File photo

Statues of Arkansas figures Uriah Rose (shown, left) and James Paul Clarke, which have stood in the U.S. Capitol for decades, will be replaced by likenesses of Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash pending federal legislation, a request from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, proper funding and artist selection.


File photo

Statues of Arkansas figures Uriah Rose and James Paul Clarke (shown), which have stood in the U.S. Capitol for decades, will be replaced by likenesses of Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash pending federal legislation, a request from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, proper funding and artist selection.

Sunday on 07/21/2019

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