New State Laws Take Effect
An Explanation of Selected Bills
September is a busy time every year and one made even busier in odd years, when most of the legislature's successful bills take effect. It also marks the start of a new fiscal year, the beginning of the state's two year budget cycle, and a marked increase in private sector activity as summer draws to a close, schools open, and, hopefully, weather cycles begin to change.
Every two years the legislature comes to Austin and sets to work on the problems left unsolved in the prior legislative session, new issues identified during the interim, and longstanding issues that lack easy solutions. The 2011 legislative session was dominated by an extremely difficult state fiscal picture that made formulating a balanced budget a tall task and slowed the progress of other significant legislative initiatives. Many of the bills that did make it through this difficult legislative session took effect September 1, and it is important to understand these changes to state law. Here is a look at selected provisions new to Texas law books:
Synthetic Drug Ban: Unscrupulous manufacturers exploited a loophole in state law and legally marketed dangerous psychoactive substances labeled "incense" and "bath salts;" these substances could be legally purchased by minors. This loophole was closed and these substances must immediately be pulled from shelves statewide.
Trans-Texas Corridor Repealed: Senator Hegar passed legislation to ensure any and all remnants of the TTC are once and forever eliminated.
Corporal Punishment: While some pushed for a blanket ban on schools' ability to use spanking or paddling as a form of discipline, I joined with the majority of my colleagues who felt it was important to strike a balance by allowing schools to retain this tool, so long as the child's parent approves.
Eminent Domain Reform: Senator Hegar co-authored successful legislation bringing badly needed landowner-friendly reforms to Texas.
"Sexting": A new offense was created for the transmission of sexually explicit materials between minors. The new law creates a misdemeanor offense that will ensure accountability and at the same time ensure youthful errors do not lead to unfair labeling as a "sex offender."
Funeral Protests: Anti-war activists will be prevented from disturbing the funeral services of our brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation.
Speed Limits: Certain major highways may now be eligible for speed limits of up to 75 miles per hour, an increase from the former 70mph maximum.
"Choose Life" License Plates: Texans can now order "Choose Life" license plates. Proceeds provide resources for pregnant women considering adoption, infants who are awaiting placement with adoptive parents, and other adoption-related services.
Voter ID: Voter fraud is combated by requiring all voters to produce identification in order to vote.
Tort Reform: The legislature continued working to eliminate frivolous lawsuits in Texas by passing a bill to require a "loser pays" system in Texas.
Legal Firearms at Work: Senator Hegar passed Senate Bill 321, which forbids most employers from prohibiting the storage of legal firearms in locked, private vehicles.
Football Helmets: Alarming data about the prevalence of insufficient head protection prompted the legislature to stiffen safety guidelines.
State Pledge of Allegiance: Senator Hegar passed legislation adding "one state under God" to Texas state flag retirement ceremonies.
Feral Hog Control: To combat the massive property damage inflicted by feral hogs, licensed hunters may now conduct eradication programs and hunts from helicopters.
This is just a sampling of the many new laws that Texas has in place. If you have questions about any of these or need help understanding one not listed here, please do not hesitate to contact Senator Hegar's district or capitol office. Information on how to do so can be found on the senator's website at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members/dist18/dist18.htm.
Senator Hegar served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and now represents Senate District 18 in the Texas Senate. He is a sixth generation Texan, and earns a living farming land that has been in his family since the mid 1800's. He currently resides in Katy, Texas with his wife Dara, and their three children, Claire, Julia, and Jonah.