The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

October 31, 2013

Abortion restrictions, license hike take effect

OKLAHOMA CITY — Further abortion restrictions, DNA tests for criminals and a $12 increase for a driver's license are among the more than 240 new laws that take effect Friday.

Other bills deal with expanding the practice of noodling, or hand fishing, and topics including criminal penalties, pensions, elections and the regulation of various professions.

Three separate laws place new restrictions on abortions. Two measures place new requirements for parental notification when minors seek an abortion. One law prohibits any abortion for a minor until at least 48 hours after a parent receives written notice, except in cases of medical emergency or abuse by a parent.

That law and a second measure further restrict the process of judicial bypass, which allows girls younger than 18 to ask a judge's permission to get an abortion without parental consent. The second measure requires that a minor must seek a judicial bypass in her home county, a move abortion foes say will prevent "venue shopping" for a judge willing to grant the bypass. Supporters of abortion rights have argued the judicial bypass is rarely used but necessary in cases where a pregnant teen might face abuse from upset parents.

A third new abortion law adds more than a dozen questions to the list that abortion providers must answer for each abortion performed, including several that are related to measures that have passed in recent years.

The nearly 50 percent hike in the cost of a standard driver's license, from $21.50 to $33.50, along with a $10 increase for a commercial license, is expected to generate about $8.7 million annually for the Department of Public Safety, said Lt. Randy Rogers, a legislative liaison for the agency. Much of the funding will be used to hire new driver's license examiners across the state, especially in metropolitan areas where long lines have been the norm for those taking driving tests.

The agency currently is conducting a school for 16 new license examiners and eight new commercial examiners who will be dispatched mostly to Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton.

"We've had those staffed before, but we're trying to add personnel to each of those locations to help us improve customer service," Rogers said.

The funds from the fee hikes, which narrowly passed the Republican-controlled House, also will be used to upgrade the agency's communication system and help with increased costs for its digital driver's license contract and other technology upgrades, Rogers said.

Another new law will end Oklahoma's dubious distinction as the only state in the nation without a program to allow some convicted criminals to seek DNA testing in an effort to fight a conviction. The Postconviction DNA Act allows those convicted of violent felonies or who have been sentenced to 25 years or more in prison to file a motion in court to request forensic DNA testing of any biological material in the case that may help them assert their innocence.

Meanwhile, Oklahomans who enjoy noodling, the type of hand fishing where an angler puts an arm into an underwater hole and tries to get a fish to bite it, will soon be able to go after blue catfish and channel catfish under another law that takes effect Friday.

Bill Hale, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said Oklahomans have traditionally noodled for flathead catfish, which is considered a nongame fish. Hale said noodling typically picks up in the late spring when catfish begin nesting in shallow water.


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