More than 600 new Texas laws take effect Sunday

Posted Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Some people might not notice until they go to a farmers market, buy a switchblade or are involved in a hit-and-run.

But hundreds of state laws are changing as of today, and some could affect the everyday lives of many Texans.

Lawmakers spent months approving new bills. Gov. Rick Perry signed 1,571 of them into law, and 659 of them take effect Sunday.

The new measures are a mixed bag, ranging from letting Texans sample food at farmers markets to making it legal for the first time in decades to buy switchblades.

Anyone who flees the scene of an accident will face a longer prison sentence and a bigger fine. Underage Texans won’t be able to use indoor tanning beds. And some seeking unemployment benefits will have to be tested for drugs.

“It is likely that most Texans will not even be aware of many of these new laws,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “Most Texans will remain unaware of this legislation’s passage and implementation, save a select few.”

Here’s a look at some of the new laws that take effect today:

Switchblades: A new law ends a decades-long prohibition on the knives. Since the 1950s, it had been a Class A misdemeanor to have, make, repair, sell or transport a switchblade in Texas. HB1862

Indoor tanning: Texans under 18 may no longer use indoor tanning beds — even if their parents say it’s OK. Before now, tanners ages 16

1/2 to 18 could use the beds if their parents gave written approval. Supporters say the goal is to reduce younger Texans’ exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to skin cancer. SB329

Drones: It is now a crime to use an “unmanned vehicle or aircraft” to take photos or videos of people or private property — with the goal of monitoring or conducting surveillance — without permission. This new law makes it a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500, to photograph or video private property without the owner’s or occupant’s consent. Law enforcers would have exceptions, as long as they have a search warrant and are pursuing a suspect. “It is critical that we have safeguards in place to protect the privacy and property rights of Texans,” said Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. HB912

Drug tests: Some Texans seeking unemployment benefits must take drug tests. Texas Workforce Commission staffers will create a system that will lead to drug tests if answers to a questionnaire show potential drug use. People who refuse or fail the test won’t receive benefits until they pass it. “The message is strong,” Perry said. “If you’ve got a drug problem, there are ways that we can help you get that licked, but we’re not going to entice individuals to not be responsible.” SB21

Farmers markets: The next time you visit a farmers market, you may find samples, cooking demonstrations and more. There are now clear standards allowing some cooking and sampling. HB1382

Rape kits: Huge numbers of evidence kits collected from rape victims statewide — left untested for years — may now be analyzed, since lawmakers included $11 million for that in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s funding. It’s included in the state budget, SB1, which takes effect today.

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.” SB376

Move over: Texas drivers already know to slow down and switch lanes when passing a first responder or law enforcement vehicle on the side of the road. Now motorists need to add Texas Department of Transportation vehicles and tow trucks to that list. Drivers must move over a lane to pass such vehicles or slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit if it’s not possible to get in a different lane. SB510

New Year’s Eve curfew: Texas wineries may now stay open after midnight one night a year — New Year’s Eve. They don’t have to close until 2 a.m., helping them market their facilities for New Year’s Eve celebrations. SB131

Driving near schools: Motorists may no longer use cellphones anywhere on school property — even outside a school zone — unless their vehicle is stopped or they are using a hands-free device. Parents need to get off their phones when in lanes and parking lots on school property. HB347

Home bakers: Texans may now make and sell from their homes even more foods — baked goods, candy, fruit butters, canned jams, fruit pies, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, cereal, popcorn, pickles, mustard and more. And buyers no longer have to come to the baker’s home. Home bakers may sell at farmers markets, farm stands and community events. HB970

Hit-and-run: Any motorist who flees the scene of an injury accident no longer faces a third-degree felony with a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000. It will be a second-degree felony with a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. SB275

School buses: Fines for illegally passing school buses when the lights and stop signs are activated will rise from $100-$1,000 to $500-$1,250. If a person has two or more violations within five years, the fine rises to between $1,000 and $2,000. HB1174

Hunting licenses: Out-of-state terminally ill children and adults whose final wishes involve hunting would be eligible for an in-state fee for a hunting license, lowering costs for charities that work to grant final wishes. HB1718

Air bags: From now on, anyone who makes, sells or installs counterfeit air bags — or purposely alters a legal air bag so it no longer meets federal safety regulations — faces more time in jail. The offense rises to a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. HB38

New drivers: Texans who get a hardship driver’s license will have to follow the same restrictions as other new drivers: They can’t use a cellphone, drive between midnight and 5 a.m. or transport more than one passenger under 21 who isn’t a relative. HB3676

“Legislators are responding to various constituent lobbying and desires,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Perhaps the Legislature could have accomplished everything during [the] regular session with tighter control and moving of bills faster and saving a few millions of dollars.

“But what would we do without the Legislature regulating tanning beds and letting us sample food at farmers markets?”

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

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