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New laws free up candy, speed limit, fantasy sports

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Photographs by Ben Goff

Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, is shown in this file photo.

Beginning Tuesday, Arkansans will have the freedom to import alcohol-infused, chocolate-covered cherries as they see fit.

Act 1035, the Chocolate-Covered Cherry Freedom Act of 2017, is among several laws approved by the 91st General Assembly that decrease the role of government in Arkansas. The law applies to candies with up to 5 percent nonliquid alcohol by volume.

Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, who sponsored the bill, said her husband presented her with outlaw candies -- shipped to Missouri -- for Valentine's Day. She said the ban seemed ridiculous.

"It just seemed like a silly regulation. Who was being protected? Nobody," she said. "It's one of those things that became a default because of a federal standard. I think there's a middle ground."

Other deregulation legislation that goes into effect Tuesday includes Act 1097, by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, allowing what will be the newly renamed Arkansas Department of Transportation to raise speed limits to 75 mph.

Danny Straessle, department spokesman, stressed that the department is allowed to increase the speed limit -- after studying the issue -- but is not mandated to do so.

If the department increases the speed limit, Straessle said, it would likely be in rural areas, such as Interstate 49.

Act 1075, by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, will legalize some forms of fantasy sports betting.

Gazaway said the law will allow Arkansans to bet through websites like FanDuel and DraftKings.

"I knew that the law needed some clarification," Gazaway said. "Many of the surrounding states had passed similar laws, but Arkansas had not."

Act 576 by Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, will strip the Early Childhood Commission's authority to regulate child centers.

After a February legislative meeting, Sullivan said rules approved by the Early Childhood Commission have been costly for child care centers, families and taxpayers, who subsidize some types of child care. Act 576 leaves the Department of Human Services in charge of making the rules.

Jody Veit-Edrington, the commission's chairman, said at the time that the bill appeared to be a response to the commission's refusal last year to change a requirement for at least 50 percent of child care center employees to be certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Sullivan has served as chief executive officer of Ascent Children's Health Services since 2013. Ascent has been in the news because Christopher Gardner, a 5-year-old boy, died at Ascent's West Memphis facility after he was left in a van for more than eight hours on June 12. Charges were filed against four employees.

Act 308, by Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, will allow microbreweries to increase production from 20,000 to 45,000 barrels per year, maintain one warehouse and transport to no more than three microbrewery-restaurants under the same ownership.

Hodges said he worked with the Arkansas Brewers Guild on the bill.

"The gist of the bill is to make it easier to operate these microbreweries and restaurants, to change some of the laws that were holding them back and preventing them from conducting their business, and to accommodate a lot of growth we've seen the last few years," he said.

The Legislature also eased up on a 2009 law requiring first-time driving-under-the-influence offenders to have ignition-interlock devices installed in their vehicles. Act 1094, by Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, will give judges discretion over whether to require the devices.

"It took the rights away from the judge; we thought it was pretty egregious," Murdock said.

Other bills include Act 981, by Rep. David Hillman, R-Almyra, which will allow the state Plant Board to set up an industrial hemp research program, and Act 556, by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which will allow community colleges to have dormitories.

Information for this article was contributed by John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, top, is congratulated by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, in this file photo + Enlarge

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Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, is shown in this file photo. + Enlarge

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Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro + Enlarge

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Rep. Grant Hodges (left), R-Rogers, is shown in this file photo. + Enlarge

SundayMonday on 07/30/2017

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