LITTLE ROCK – Many of the bills approved by lawmakers earlier this year become effective on July 24, which is the 91st day after the legislature adjourned.
For example, Act 738, which strengthens traffic laws restricting the use of cell phones while driving, will be in place on July 24. The definition of texting has been expanded to include instant messaging and electronic data retrieval.
Act 738 prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone, or a hands-free device. Drivers who are 18, 19 and 20 may use a hands-free device while driving.
Drivers of all ages are prohibited from using a cell phone while in construction zones with workers present, or in school zones during school hours when students are present.
Fines for a first offense range from $25 to $250, and from $50 to $500 for a second offense. If the driver is in an accident or collision, the fines shall be doubled.
Also taking effect on July 24 is Act 650. It allows bicycle riders to slow down for stop signs and proceed through red lights, after stopping. In both instances the bicycles must yield to oncoming traffic and proceed cautiously.
Bills that had an emergency clause took effect immediately when the governor signed them.
For example, Act 423 clarifies when farmers may apply powerful herbicides such as dicamba. It had an emergency clause that made it take effect on March 11, when it was signed, to prevent egregious violations during the spring growing season.
A few bills have a specific date written into them, indicating when they are to go into effect.
For example, Act 784 raises the speed limit to 75 miles an hour on four-lane, controlled access highways, but not until July 1, 2020. The controlled access highways must be divided by a median strip and in rural areas.
The speed limit will be 70 miles per hour for commercial vehicles, which are defined as those weighing more than 26,000 pounds that carry passengers or property.
The Highway Commission may lower the limits if it completes an engineering and traffic safety investigation.
The effective date of new laws is set by Amendment 7 to the state Constitution, which gives citizens 90 days to file petitions seeking to overturn or amend any acts passed by the legislature.
In most cases bills without an emergency clause take effect on July 24. However, appropriations that authorize spending by state agencies took effect on July 1. That was the first day of state Fiscal Year 2020.
Three new symbolic designations will take effect on July 24. Act 510 designates the Bowie knife as the official state knife; Act 685 designates the shotgun as the official state firearm and Act 576 designates the alligator gar as the official state primitive fish, which is not to be confused with a game fish.
A total of 1,670 bills were filed in the Senate and House, and 1,092 became laws. The legislature convened on January 14, the second Monday of the year, and adjourned on April 24. The final day of regular business was actually on April 10.
During the two-week recess between April 10 and April 24 staff checked bills for typographical errors.