2016’s worst red light runners
Texas leaders were clear about their mission this year.
They wanted the Legislature to focus on the big issues: teacher raises, property tax relief, a balanced budget during this meat-and-potatoes session that ends Memorial Day.
Lawmakers heard the message, but also found time to pass much smaller bills that could affect countless Texans’ daily lives, touching on issues such as red light cameras, brass knuckles and dining out with man’s best friend.
“While many legislators are focused on big ticket items, thousands of smaller changes pass that gradually alter the lives or activities of Texans,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “All of these small changes end up making a super sized impact on Texans.”
This year, more than 9,400 bills and resolutions were filed in both the House and Senate.
Hundreds of those measures have been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for consideration. The governor has until June 16 to sign or veto measures or they automatically become law.
Here’s a look at some of the proposals that, if approved by Abbott, could affect the daily lives of many Texans:
Red light cameras: Texas lawmakers OK’d an effort to turn off red light cameras across the state. They’ll go dark if the governor signs this bill by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, as expected. An amendment on the bill lets cities keep operating the cameras until their vendor contracts expire. In Fort Worth, the red light camera contract expires in 2026. City officials say they are still “evaluating” the impact of this bill and don’t know how long that evaluation will take. Another amendment prevents county and state officials from refusing to register a vehicle because the owner has unpaid red light camera tickets.
Dogs on patios: Many restaurants across the state already let customers bring their dogs with them to dine in outdoor areas such as patios. But some cities have put restrictions in place requiring those businesses to have inspections, apply for dog variances, pay fees and more. So state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, filed a bill to let restaurants let customers with leashed dogs dine in outside areas under certain conditions.
Carrying brass knuckles/security key chains: It is legal to carry guns and knives in Texas, even as brass knuckles — and self-defense plastic key chains shaped like dogs or cats with pointy ears — remained on the state’s list of banned weapons. A bill changes that, removing these items from the prohibited weapons list as of Sept. 1.
Speed limits: Ever get confused, after you pass through a construction or work zone on a Texas highway, about what the speed limit is? There’s a work zone sign, and speed limit sign posted at the beginning of road work. But at the end, while there’s generally a sign that says “end work zone,” there’s not a sign letting drivers know what the speed limit is. HB 339 calls for the state to put up a sign letting Texas drivers know the speed limit at the end of construction zones.
Fishing and hunting licenses: Texans currently must carry paper copies of their hunting and fishing licenses with them. HB 547 lets Texans show their licenses digitally on their phone, rather than only a paper copy, to game wardens. This measure, already signed into law, goes in effect Sept. 1.
Missing Texans: There are programs in place to alert Texans to missing children, the AMBER alert, and older Texans, the Silver Alert. HB 1769 creates another alert system that could be activated for missing adults between the ages of 18 and 65. This alert would apply to an adult missing for less than 72 hours who may be in danger or have been kidnapped. And HB 833 creates a statewide “camo” alert for any military members who are missing and suffering from mental illnesses such as brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nixing “no firearms” clauses: Currently, leases for apartments, condos and manufactured housing may include “no firearm” clauses, preventing renters and owners alike from having firearms or ammunition at those properties. HB 302, already signed into law by the governor, prevents rental leases from including any “no firearms” clauses as of Sept. 1.
Carrying guns into churches: Officials at places of religious worship in Texas may soon get to decide whether to allow handguns on their premises. Currently, Texas law includes these places on a list where gun owners may not carry their weapons. If Abbott signs SB 535 into law, officials at churches, synagogues and all places of religious worship may make that decision for themselves as of Sept. 1.
Protecting older Texans: Any Texan 65 or older who is targeted for scams on the Internet could soon get a bigger payout in court, if their perpetrator is caught and sued. HB 883 lets courts increase the amount awarded in damages in these cases to as much as three times the actual damages incurred.
Releasing public information: Want to know the cost of a public event — such as a concert or parade — that’s at least partly paid for with taxpayer money? Well, currently Texas law lets governmental entities decline to answer those questions when requested through an open records request. HB 81, already signed into law by the governor, requires governmental agencies to answer those questions about public events that are paid for with at least some public dollars. The bill law went into effect after being signed May 17.
TV commercials: Turn on the TV and you’re likely to see commercials featuring attorneys soliciting clients, asking people with problems regarding medical devices or prescriptions to call them. SB 1189 prevents certain phrases — such as “medical alert,” “public service announcement” and “drug alert” — from being used in these ads. It also prevents these commercials offering legal services from showing federal or state agency logos that suggest the ad is approved by, or associated with, that agency.
Smoking age: The state’s youngest smokers may soon have to stub out their habit. As of Sept. 1, the legal age to buy or use tobacco and e-cigarette products will go up from 18 to 21, except for Texans serving in the military who show a military ID. SB 21, which also boosts the age limit for proof of identification from 27 to 30, would go into effect Sept. 1, if signed into law by Abbott.
“Most Texans would be shocked if they looked at a count of the number of things that the legislature changes in 140 days,” Rottinghaus said.