How do Texas lawmakers’ bills affect your daily life?

Posted Saturday, May. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Texas lawmakers didn’t leave anything to chance.

During the 140-day session that wraps up Monday, they have worked to address big issues — paying for schools, transportation and future water needs — but they also weighed in on a lot of smaller issues that will affect the everyday lives of Texans.

Like parking for veterans, indoor tanning beds, landlord rights, sales taxes on gold coins, even where fans can drink beer at a Rangers game.

Hundreds of bills have been sent to Gov. Rick Perry for consideration, and more are on the way.

This legislative session, 8,960 bills and resolutions were filed in both chambers. Of those, 207 have been signed into law, and 760 have passed both chambers and been sent to the governor for consideration, according to the Texas Legislature Online.

Other bills and resolutions hang in the balance and could gain final approval by Monday’s deadline.

“This set of legislation varies considerably in content and impact,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“In some instances, the legislation is designed to correct deficiencies in the current rules which inconvenience many Texans, such as those that presently limit what cities can do to ameliorate conditions conducive to mosquito reproduction.

“In others, their goal is to take into account new information, such as the growing health concerns over the use of tanning beds by teens or the increase in financial scams involving children,” he said.

“But also hidden within this broad set of legislation are changes to the rules of the game designed to benefit specific companies or individuals.”

A look at some bills that may affect Texans’ daily lives.

West Nile virus: Public officials may now go onto certain vacant or foreclosed properties to treat stagnant water — where mosquitoes breed — with larvicide to prevent the spread of West Nile virus. The mosquito-borne disease has killed dozens of North Texans. Perry has signed the bill, and it has taken effect.

Rangers fans: Fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington could not buy an alcoholic beverage in one permitted area of the stadium and take it to other areas, even if alcohol is allowed there. “This regulatory constraint serves no public purpose, but unintentionally encourages binge drinking that may lead to unsafe conditions for fans, event attendees, and the general public,” according to a bill analysis. The governor has signed House Bill 893, which lets fans with alcoholic drinks move around within the stadium. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, led the effort.

Identity theft: Parents may act to prevent their children from being victims of identity theft. Perry has signed Senate Bill 60, which lets parents ask credit-reporting agencies to create a credit record for a child under 16 and put a security freeze on it, keeping information for credit purposes from being released. “This legislation allows parents to place a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign on their child’s credit record, thereby protecting young Texans from the devastating impact of identity theft,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Indoor tanning: Texans under 18 could not use a tanning bed at all, even if their parents say it’s OK, if Perry signs Senate Bill 329 into law. The measure, which would take effect Sept. 1, would replace a restriction that prevents anyone younger than 161/2 from tanning and lets people ages 161/2 to 18 tan only if their parents give written approval.

License plates: Texans who have been driving without license plates have avoided fines because a law inadvertently removed the section creating fines for that violation. But no more. House Bill 625 sets fines of up to $200. It has been sent to Perry.

Parking for veterans: Some veterans and military award recipients — including disabled veterans, former prisoners of war, and recipients of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and more — are exempt from paying at parking meters if their vehicles have specialty license plates. House Bill 1514, which has been sent to the governor, would extend that privilege to those with World War II veteran specialty plates.

Hunting licenses: Under House Bill 1718, out-of-state terminally ill children and adults whose final wishes involve hunting in Texas would be eligible for an in-state fee for a hunting license. The measure would lower costs for charities that work to grant the final wishes of the terminally ill. It has been sent to the governor.

Landlord rights: Landlords have limited options if tenants don’t pay their utility fees. House Bill 1086, which has been sent to the governor, would let landlords disconnect electric service for nonpayment in certain situations as long as they give proper notice, repayment options are available and doing so isn’t a threat to the tenant’s health.

Holiday spirit: Students, teachers and staff members at public schools could use traditional holiday greetings — such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” — and have parties that include Christmas trees, Nativity scenes and menorahs. House Bill 308 has been sent to the governor.

Enjoying the Capitol view: If you like looking at the Capitol when visiting Austin, you aren’t alone. While ordinances protect some of that view, lawmakers want to do more to preserve it. House Bill 2256 bans some construction on the east and west sides of Congress Avenue, based on size and height. The bill has been sent to the governor’s office.

Taxes on gold: Texans selling precious metal coins and bullion may no longer face sales taxes. House Bill 78, which would eliminate those taxes, has passed both chambers. Current law puts a 6.25 percent sales tax on purchases of gold and silver under $1,000. “This sends a powerful message to other states that taxing gold makes no sense because gold is money,” said Rich Danker, economics director at the American Principles Project. “What is particularly right about this bill is that it removes a tax that affected middle- and lower-income people who wanted to acquire gold. These are the people losing the most from the long-term erosion in the dollar’s value and need this sound money option.”

School breakfasts: Children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals would be encouraged to eat breakfast at school to improve their health, boost their academic achievement and improve their “lifelong healthy eating habits,” according to an analysis of Senate Bill 376. This bill has been sent to Perry.

Highway driving: Motorists will be required either to vacate the lane closest to a stationary emergency vehicle or tow truck with its overhead lights activated or to slow down significantly, unless otherwise directed by a police officer. This bolsters laws geared toward protecting highway workers. Senate Bill 510, already signed into law, takes effect Sept. 1.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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