With the ringing in of the new year, several state laws have taken effect.

As of Monday, the number of characters on an Oklahoma driver's license has increased from nine to 10. As part of an anti-fraud measure, state law now requires Oklahoma driver's license numbers to be alpha-numeric.

“The new driver's license number - or identifier, as the law calls it - should not disrupt any business practices in the public or private sector, said David Beatty, legislative and special projects manager for the Department of Public Safety. “A letter will be added to the beginning of the current driver's license number. The department will maintain a cross reference to the old nine-digit number.

The prefix letter will be computer-generated based upon certain information provided by the license holder. In this way, it will serve as a check against fraudulent driver's license numbers. Once generated, the letter will become a permanent part of the driver license number.

The department will phase in the new numbers over the next four years as existing driver's licenses are renewed or replaced.

The largest tax cut in state history went into effect Monday as well.

Legislation has reduced the state income tax rate along with increases in the standard deduction from state income taxes and a new exemption from the Oklahoma estate tax.

The income tax reduction and standard deduction changes will reduce state revenues by an estimated $94.8 million. The lower tax rates and higher standard deductions were passed by the 2006 Legislature and will apply to 2007 income.

Lower income tax rates and higher standard deductions will be reflected in state tax withholding tables that most employers use to withhold state taxes from their employees' paychecks, said Michelle Thompson, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

The new state income tax rate is 5.65 percent. It was 6.25 percent last year.

The standard deductions from income tax are $5,500 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses, and $4,125 for heads of households, who generally are single persons with dependents. The deduction was $3,000 for those groups last year. The new tax for single persons or married persons filing separately is $2,750. It was $2,000 last year.

For the first time, collateral heirs, which include nieces and nephews, get an exemption from estate taxes. Until this year, exemptions from the estate tax applied only to lineal heirs - sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. This year, collateral heirs will be treated the same as lineal heirs.

The Legislature passed a bill that will eliminate the estate tax in 2010. In 2007, collateral and lineal heirs will have a $1 million exemption from the Oklahoma estate tax. In 2008, the exemption will be $2 million. In 2009, the exemption will be $3 million.

In addition, a new boating safety law for youngsters 12 to 16 went into effect on New Year's Day. The legislation grew out of the death of a 12-year-old Kyle Williams of Edmond in a 2004 accident on Lake Eufaula.

The Kyle Williams Boating Safety Education Act requires youngsters between the ages of 12 and 16 to complete a boat safety course before being allowed to operate a watercraft with an engine of 10 horsepower or more. Boating education courses are free through the Department of Public Safety.

For more information about local boat safety courses, contact Trooper Randall Green at (918) 847-2001.