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Hundreds of New State Laws Take Effect on First of August

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LITTLE ROCK – Most of the bills that were approved by the legislature earlier this year became law on August 1.

Among the most important measures taking effect is the LEARNS Act, which raises teacher minimum salaries to $50,000 a year and makes sweeping changes in the public school finance formula.

LEARNS is an acronym that stands for Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking, School Safety.

Another important bill is Act 659, the Protect Arkansas Act, which lengthens prison sentences for violent offenders and requires prison inmates to work harder to qualify for parole. Making offenders serve longer sentences would bring Arkansas sentencing guidelines more in line with those used by federal prisons, where people convicted of federal crimes serve almost all of their sentence.

To more effectively implement Act 659, lawmakers approved funding in separate legislation for 3,000 more prison beds.

Act 584 creates a new felony of “death by delivery” for dealers who lace their illegal drugs with fentanyl, resulting in the death of users. The penalties range from 20 years to life.

Act 264 tightens up requirements for scrap metal dealers who must maintain records of buying recycled parts, such as catalytic converters. The bill also makes it a Class C felony to possess stolen converters. It will be illegal to buy or possess a catalytic converter if it has been removed from a car the person does not own.

Act 629 prohibits the sale of Delta 8 products, a marijuana product made legal by the passage of federal Farm Bill in 2018, which legalized hemp production. The law has a loophole that allows for extraction of the ingredients that go into Delta 8. Previously, it was sold in stores with no regulation of packaging or marketing. The act has been challenged by manufacturers and sellers of the product.

Another high-profile bill has been challenged in the courts. Act 372 gives parents more options to have offensive material relocated or removed from local libraries and school libraries.

After making an objection to the librarian and if necessary making an appeal to the library board, parents then can appeal to the county Quorum Court or City Council. Both are composed of people elected by voters.

Act 372 removes the current exemption that protects librarians from criminal prosecution. If librarians knowingly maintain material that is deemed obscene, they could be prosecuted.

Act 612 makes pornography websites liable for harm they cause to minors, and requires them to make reasonable efforts to require age verification. For example, they can require a digital ID before allowing viewers to access the site.

Act 689 would require social media sites to verify the age of users, and users under the age of 18 would need parental permission. Prosecutors could seek fines of $2,500 per violation against the social media companies.

Other new laws affect transgender people, and physicians who perform medical procedures to change genders. Act 274 allows medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians who perform gender transformation procedures on children, for up to 15 years after the minor turns 18. In most medical malpractice cases the limit is two years after the injury.

Act 777 clarifies that you don’t need a permit to carry a concealed firearm in Arkansas.

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