LITTLE ROCK – The major provisions of the new Protect Arkansas Act are well known, but they are only a few of the many measures passed during the 2023 regular session.
One provision in the act will eliminate the practice of credit bonding. People who are charged with a crime must put up 10% of the bond amount, to ensure they will attend hearings and trials. However, some bail bondsmen allow the accused people to pay in installments, so they have not even put up 10% of their bond at the time they go to trial.
The act requires prison officials to place inmates in a unit within 250 miles of their children, if possible. Restrictions on visits by inmates' children are loosened, and female inmates who deliver a baby while in prison are allowed more opportunities to be with the newborns.
Specialty courts, such as drug courts, can hire behavioral health experts to work with people with mental health issues who come before the courts.
A little-noticed provision in the act creates a statewide dog program, for children and vulnerable victims who must participate in criminal justice proceedings. The dogs are a calming influence in what might otherwise be an intimidating setting.
The most well-known provisions of Act 659 are those that require the most violent offenders to serve 100% of their sentences. Other serious offenders must serve at least 85% of their sentence, and inmates will have to complete drug rehab and job training in order to accumulate good time.
The legislature enacted a series of other anti-crime measures. For example, the theft of catalytic converters has risen more than 1,000% over the past few years. That's because they contain valuable metals.
In response, the Arkansas legislature passed Act 264 to make theft of a catalytic converter a felony, and to require scrap metal dealers to keep records when they purchase used catalytic converters.
Act 508 creates the offense of operating a "chop shop," where stolen motor vehicles are altered to disguise their identification numbers, or broken down for parts for resale.
Act 762 makes it a crime to erase serial numbers from motor vehicles, boats, farm equipment and their parts.
Deaths due to fentanyl have skyrocketed. Exact numbers are difficult to calculate because many other illegal drugs are laced with fentanyl. In 2021, the state Health Department estimated that 618 deaths from drug overdoses in 2021 and 65% were caused by fentanyl. Those numbers were a driving force when the legislature passed Act 739 of 2023 to increase criminal penalties for knowingly exposing another person to fentanyl.
Recently, law enforcement and health officials have discovered that a loophole in the law allowed retail stores to sell a derivative of hemp that contains THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes intoxication. They're generally known as Delta-8 products, and thanks to Act 629 they are now illegal.
Act 420 increases the criminal penalties for physically abusing referees and umpires at sporting events.
Act 354 makes it easier for victims to sue businesses that profit from human trafficking, such as hotels and trucking firms.
Editor's note: Sen. Joshua Bryant represents District 32 in Arkansas. He and his family live in Rogers. He serves on the Committee of Education and the committee on City, County and Local Affairs.