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New Year, New Laws: What Arkansans Need to Know for 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A new year means new laws for Arkansans. 

According to the state legislature's website, about 40 laws and amendments take effect Jan. 1.

Lawmakers kicked off 2017 by passing more than a thousand bills and delivering them to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature during the 85-day session. 

However, some laws impacting everything from income taxes to school buses took nearly a full 365 days to go into effect. 

One of Hutchinson's main priorities during the legislative session, the military retirement income tax cut, is one of them. It provides tax relief for the state's 22,000 veterans or their surviving spouses or children.

"I believe it will help us to bring more route military retirees here, welcome them back to Arkansas," the governor said during a press conference in Dec. 2016. 

A second law requires school buses bought new or leased after Jan. 1 to have seat belts under one condition. Ten percent of registered voters in a school district must sign a petition. It would then be determined how to fund the upgrade and put to a vote.

"We're just one bad school bus crash away from having this mandated on a nationwide basis," St. Rep. Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, said during the session. 

A third law threatens doctors with fines and prison time if they perform abortions based solely on whether the mom wants to have a girl or boy. It requires doctors to ask their patients the sex of their child and obtain their full medical records before performing an abortion.

"When you abort a baby based on sex selection, you're basically saying that you're choosing a boys rights over a girls rights," said St. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View.

One section of a law that expands wine sales in grocery stores also takes effect in the new year.

It allows small farm wineries to receive additional grant funds. The money comes from application fees the stores pay to carry the extra inventory.

"Really this act not only allows stores to sell expanded wine, but it also allows the industry here in the state to grow," said Scott Hardin, the ABC spokesperson. 

Hardin said ABC received more than 250 applications as of Dec. 20. Depending on the size of the store, the application fee ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. He said on the conservative side, that means the state has generated more than half a million dollars so far for the grants. 

A portion of that will also go to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to promote the state's wine industry.  

A fifth law requires political action committees (PACs), among others, to submit their campaign finance information electronically in most cases.

St. Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, sponsored a similar law for candidates that went into effect in October.

"It's really obnoxious what you have to go through to get basic information and it's 2017," Della Rosa said. 

Other laws taking effect Jan. 1 include:

  • Section 15 of the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act regarding departures from the voluntary presumptive sentencing range
  • Act 203, which gives the state a new definition of telemedicine and includes requirements for establishing a "professional relationship" and for when a health care worker provides telehealth services in a school setting to a minor who is a Medicaid recipient 
  • Act 543, which requires insurance companies to bill oral anti-cancer medication the same as intravenous medication
  • Act 392, which creates born-alive infant protections 
  • Act 910, which sets the date of annual school elections to be the date of the preferential primary election or the general election 

For the complete list of laws, type in "January 1, 2018" in the "exact phrase" column on the "Search Acts" page of the legislature's website. 

The new year also brings the fiscal session, which starts Feb. 12. 

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