July 5, 2011

Almost 1,500 new laws are taking effect in Texas

They affect veterans, fishermen, nursing home residents and more.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

This article has been modified from how it was originally published in the Star-Telegram and on to correct the age at which a person can fish without a license and the spelling of the namesake of House Bill 2707.

Maybe you won't notice until you buy a scratch-off lottery ticket, decide to go fishing without a pole, sign your child up for a driver's education class or have a loved one in a nursing home or hospice on a hot day.

But those are among the times Texans will see and feel the impact of the work that state lawmakers did -- and Gov. Rick Perry signed off on -- during the 82nd Legislature this year.

Perry signed 1,458 bills into law that touch nearly every corner of Texans' lives and allowed 27 more measures to take effect without his signature. Some were effective immediately. Others will go into effect in the coming months.

Many big-ticket items -- from the budget to redistricting -- drew much attention, as did a potential presidential bid by Perry. But it's the other bills that may affect Texans first.

"Bills passed during a session make a huge impact in our day-to-day lives oftentimes," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "But people don't often know about them until they encounter them, or they impact them."

Here's a look at some of the smaller items becoming law this year.

Lottery tickets : Texans buying the Veterans Cash $2 scratch-off ticket should know that the money they pay will still help veterans. This measure by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is in effect to ensure that money will not be diverted from the Texas Veterans Commission fund for veterans' assistance. (SB1739)

Fishing: Texans can now legally fish for catfish using their hands rather than a pole -- known as noodling. They just need the required license and freshwater-fishing stamp. A separate law lets Texans 80 and older fish without a license. (HB2189, HB550)

Driver's ed : Driver's education instructors will have to undergo background checks starting Sept. 1. The measure that Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, worked on lets the Texas Education Agency revoke licenses given to people who have been convicted of certain felonies, including sex offenses. (HB2678)

Power grids : During power shortages, a top priority is to maintain power at hospitals or restore it as quickly as possible if it is lost. As of Sept. 1, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and hospice centers will also hold priority status. (SB937)

Corporal punishment: Many parents will be able to prevent school districts from paddling their children under this measure signed by several local lawmakers, including GOP Reps. Barbara Nash of Arlington, Diane Patrick of Arlington and Mark Shelton of Fort Worth. (HB359)

Dominoes: Anyone who plays the domino game of 42 is playing the official State Table Game of Texas. As the story goes, two boys who lived in North Texas more than 120 years ago had gotten in trouble for playing card games, because their families considered cards sinful. So William A. Thomas and Walter Earl came up with a similar game -- using dominoes. From there, the game spread. Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, is among those who worked on this law. (House Concurrent Resolution 84)

Chemotherapy: Some oral medications, such as those for chemotherapy, will no longer be more expensive than the intravenous version for many Texans, as of Sept. 1. (HB438)

Missing Texans : Statewide Amber Alerts will continue calling attention to abducted children and missing senior citizens, and as of Sept. 1 they may also alert the public to missing adults with diagnosed intellectual developmental disabilities, under the measure by Davis and Reps. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. (HB1075)

Toll fees: Administrative fees charged by a tollway operator such as the North Texas Tollway Authority will be reduced from $100 to $25 for the first notice. Other fees will also be capped or reduced as of Sept. 1, under the measure that Sens. Davis, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Chris Harris, R-Arlington, worked on with Patrick. (SB469)

"Romeo and Juliet": The "Romeo and Juliet" law aims to prevent teens and young adults who have consensual sex from becoming criminals. The measure by Smith and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, prevents a young defendant from having to register as a sex offender if he or she had consensual sex with someone 15 or older. It takes effect Sept. 1. (SB198)

Dating safety : To cut down on dating violence, the state will create a 12-week dating-violence court program for teens after Sept. 1. First-time offenders could receive deferred adjudication by participating in this program, which will provide counseling and explain the juvenile justice system to youths. (HB2496)

Rape kits : Authorities will have to move more quickly to test biological evidence collected from sexual assaults. As of Sept. 1, Davis' measure requires police to give any evidence to a crime lab within 30 days of collection, and it must be tested within three months. (SB1636)

Speed limits : After Sept. 1, Texas highways will no longer have different speed limits during the day and at night. The new law also lets transportation officials raise limits to 75 mph in remote areas. Dozens of legislators signed on to this bill, including King, Nash, Patrick, Shelton, Smith, Zedler and Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. (HB1353)

Bad bars: Permits to sell alcohol will not be issued to or renewed for bar owners whose permits have been pulled or canceled because of violent acts on their premises. Several lawmakers, including Davis and Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, worked on this measure, known as Erik's Law, which takes effect Sept. 1. (HB2707)

Protesting funerals: People picketing a Texas funeral can't do so from three hours before the service starts until three hours after it is finished, as of Sept. 1. (HB718)

Clean water : For years, Texans have been warned not to mess with Texas roadways. Now that warning is being extended to waterways. As of Sept. 1, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will administer the "Don't Mess With Texas Water" program, and signs at major highway water crossings will give a toll-free hotline to report illegal dumping. (HB451)

Hog hunting : Texas hunters may start shooting feral hogs from helicopters as of Sept. 1. Until now, Texans could do so only on their own land. Now, landowners may sell seats to others. (HB716)

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

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