By ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK — New requirements on facilities that provide the abortion pill and a tax cut on the purchase of used cars are among the new laws that Arkansas residents will see with the new year.
The laws are among more than a dozen that take effect on Jan. 1, along with measures ranging from a pilot program to offer morbid obesity coverage and a requirement that new homes include carbon monoxide detectors.
The new licensing requirement was one of the few victories anti-abortion groups saw in the Legislature, with at least 10 other abortion-related bills never reaching the House floor for a final vote.
It requires facilities that perform 10 or more nonsurgical abortions a month to be licensed by the state Health Department and be subject to inspections by the department, the same requirements faced by facilities that offer surgical abortions in the state. It will affect two facilities operated by Planned Parenthood that offer the abortion pill, though they’re not singled out in the statute.
Arkansas Right to Life, which pushed for the change, said the requirements are needed to protect women who go to the clinics and so regulators could have more information about the facilities.
"We want to end abortions, but we also understand there is a safety issue," said Rose Mimms, the group’s executive director. "We care about the woman and want to make sure that places that are doing abortions aren’t harming women."
Planned Parenthood, however, said that its clinics are already regulated like any other health care facility and abide by the state Medical Practices Act. During the legislative session, Planned Parenthood warned that its clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock would have to add procedure and recovery rooms, space that’s not needed in facilities that don’t perform surgery, in order to comply with the law. The group said in a statement in December that it’s ready for the new law, but declined to elaborate on what adjustments it’s made at the facilities.
"We are in compliance with all current state laws and regulations and have made all administrative adjustments necessary to meet the new standards imposed by the additional licensing requirements," said Murry Newbern, director of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. "This law will not affect the services we provide or impact the women that rely on us for safe abortion care."
Arkansas has one clinic that performs surgical abortions, which is in Little Rock.
The new year will also bring a new tax cut for Arkansas residents who buy a used car. Starting Jan. 1, taxpayers who buy a vehicle with a selling price of less than $4,000 would not have to pay sales tax on the purchase. That increases the exemption from $2,500.
The tax cut was part of a $35 million package of reductions that Gov. Mike Beebe negotiated with lawmakers during the session. The package includes a half-cent cut in the state sales tax on groceries that took effect in July and an annual back-to-school sales tax holiday.
The used car tax cut is expected to cost the state about $5 million annually.
Sen. Gilbert Baker, who sponsored the cut, said he hoped it would provide relief to working Arkansans during the economic downturn.
"It’s worth every penny that we can put forth to make that happen," said Baker, R-Conway.
A variety of other laws will also take effect, including measures that will:
• Require a low voltage carbon monoxide detector be installed on each floor of a new home constructed after Jan. 1. The law makes it a misdemeanor to violate the new requirement.
• Require state and public school employee health benefit plans to offer coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of morbid obesity, including gastric bypass surgery and adjustable gastric banding surgery. The law is intended to be a pilot program to study the effect of requiring insurers to cover the procedures, according to its sponsor, Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett.
• Allow the Department of Finance and Administration to offset any tax refund due for any tax it collects against a debt for any tax administered by the state.