Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Texas: Awash with limited government, and hundreds of new laws

Just received this press release from Tom Vinger at the Texas Department of Public Safety:
Below is a list of selected changes to traffic and criminal statutes. Unless otherwise listed, all laws below take effect September 1, 2 011. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all new laws passed by the Texas Legislature.

Criminal Laws
·        Certain synthetic compounds deceptively labeled as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana products (K2 or spice) have been added to Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. (HB 2118, SB 331)  Bath salts contain dangerous stimulants, and K2 mimics the effects of marijuana. Both have been sold in convenience stores and head shops, and have side effects that can be harmful and long-lasting.
·        The electronic transmission or possession of visual material depicting a minor engaging in sexual conduct (“sexting”) has been added as an offense in the Penal Code. The penalty can range from a Class C misdemeanor to Class A misdemeanor, dependi ng on the circumstances. This does not apply to minors involved in a dating relationship or spouses. (SB 407)
·        The possession or use of tire deflation devices, commonly known as caltrops, for any purpose other than law enforcement use or as an antique or curio is prohibited. Criminal organizations have increasingly used caltrops as they attempt to evade apprehension, resulting in damage to patrol vehicles and innocent vehicles on the road. (SB 1416)

Traffic Laws
·        Tow trucks have now been added to the slow down or move over laws, which require drivers to slow down 20 miles per hour below the speed limit, or to vacate the lane closest to the stopped emergency vehicle that has emergency lights activated if the road has multiple lanes traveling in the same direc t ion. (HB 378)
·        Speed limits will now be the same during night and day driving, and separate speed limits for trucks have been eliminated. The maximum speed limit on state highways may be raised to 75 miles per hour if approved after a finding by TxDOT that the increased speed would be reasonable and safe following an engineering and traffic investigation. (HB 1353)
·        A driver may not allow a child under 18 to ride in a watercraft while it is being towed on a street or highway.  This does not include watercraft being towed on a beach or in a parade. (HB 2981)

Driver License
·        Hardship driver licenses will be suspended if the holder is convicted of two or more moving violations during a 12-month period. DPS may no longer waive the driver education requirement to issue a 60-day hardship license. (HB 90)
·        Drivers subject to the Driver Responsibility Program will be able to pay the entire three-year amount of surcharges owed for a violation in advance, rather than paying across all three years. (HB 588)
·        Veterans will be exempt from the fee for a personal identification certificate if they can show honorable discharge and at least 60 percent service-related disability. Disabled veterans are exempted from driver license fees under current law. (HB 1148)
·        A veteran design ation will be displayed on a driver license for applicants who provide proof of military service and honorable discharge. (HB 1514)
·        The Sunset Commission has been charged with reviewing the current oversight structure of driver education and driver safety schools, which are currently overseen by the Texas Education Agency, and determine if another state agency should have oversight. Providers of driver education courses, including DPS for the purposes of parent taught driver education, will be able to provide certificates of completion directly to those who have completed driver education courses. (HB 2678)
·        DPS will establish a deferral program for surcharges assessed under the Driver Responsibility Program to military personnel actively deployed outside the U.S. for the duration of the individual’s deployment. (HB 2851)
·        Voters will be required to present a driver license, personal identification certificate, military identification, election identification certificate, United States citizenship certificate passport, or concealed handgun license to participate in an election. DPS must create an election identification certificate to be issued by DPS for registered voters who do not have any of the other acceptable forms of photo identification. The election identification certificate will be distinguishable from a driver license or personal identification certificate, and will be issued free of charge to persons only if they do not hold any other acceptable form of identification, as listed in Election Code 63.0101. These forms of identification include a driver license, personal identification certificate, military identification, a United States citizenship certificate, passport, or concealed handgun license.  (SB 14)
·        A four-hour driving safety course was approved for drivers under 25 years old. Drivers under 25 who are cited for a moving violation may be required to take this course. (SB 1330)
·        Applicants for a driver license or identification certificate must provide proof that the applicant is lawfully present in the United States. Applicants who are not U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or admitted to the U.S. as refugees or asylees are considered temporary visitors. Driver license and identification certificates issued to temporary visitors expire concurrent with the end of the applicant’s lawful presence, or after one year if the legal stay is indefinite. Driver license and identification certificates issued to temporary visitors are to be i n the same format and contain the same information as those issued to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. (SB 1, 82 nd 1 st Called Session, effective September 28, 2011)

·        A person may carry a handgun, knife, or club in a watercraft under the person’s ownership or control. The handgun, knife, or club may not be in plain view, used while engaging in criminal activity, or carried by a member of a criminal street gang. (HB 25)
·        Employers may not prohibit employees with a concealed handgun license from having firearms or ammunition in their personal cars in the employer ’ s parking lot. This does not apply to employees of public, private or charter schools, or employees of chemical manufacturers or oil and gas refiners. (SB 321)

Crime Labs
·        Crime laboratories are required to preserve biological evidence used in the investigation or prosecution of a felony for at least 40 years, or until the applicable statute of limitations has expired if there is an un-apprehended actor associated with the offense. (SB 1616, effective June 17, 2011)
·        Law enforcement agencies are required to submit DNA evidence in active sexual assault cases to an accredited laboratory within 30 days of receipt. Once the evidence has been analyzed, the DNA must be compared by DPS to state and federal DNA databases. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to submit unanalyzed DNA evidence collected after September 1, 1996, to DPS for analysis. (SB 1636)

·        A new category of missing person alerts may now be issued for missing persons with intellectual disabilities. Activation of this alert includes a requirement of documentation of a qualifying intellectual disability. (HB 1075)
·        DPS must create a pass for expedited access to the state Capitol building. To be eligible, an applicant must meet the criteria to apply for a concealed handgun license, with the exception of handgun proficiency requirements. (HB 2131, effective May 30, 2011)
·        The Texas Fusion Center Policy Council was created to assist DPS in monitoring fusion center activities in Texas. The council is required to establish a privacy advisory group, recommend best practices for fusion centers in Texas and annually submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature regarding the council's progress. (HB 3324, effective June 17, 2011)
In a press release, state Sen. Rodney Ellis mentioned several additional bills of note, including:
  • HB 215, which will enact a pivotal eyewitness identification reform recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel to help reduce wrongful convictions.  The bill requires all Texas law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt written eyewitness identification policies based on proven best practices by September 1, 2012; 
  • SB 122, legislation I authored to strengthen Texas' post-conviction DNA testing law, another important reform recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel.  SB 122 will ensure that if there is DNA evidence available to prove someone's innocence, it can and will be tested.  No longer will the door to justice be shut just because of a procedural error;
  • HB 417, legislation enacting comprehensive exoneree compensation reforms, including health care to the wrongfully convicted, standards for attorney's fees in compensation claims, and removing bureaucratic hurdles in order for exonerees to receive the compensation they deserve. It gives exonerees access to health insurance through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  It also modifies the current compensation statute so that individuals like Anthony Graves, who was recently denied compensation due to a technical error in his dismissal order, can get compensation in the future.
RELATED: All told, the legislative website lists 673 bills which take effect tomorrow. From the Austin Statesman, "DPS to streamline driver's licensing with megacenters"; from the Texas Tribune, "During a legislative session where hardly any services were spared the budget ax, funding for border security actually increased"; from KXAN-TV, "Hundreds of new laws taking effect Thursday"; from the Huntsville Item, "New law increases speed limit to 75 mph"; from the Wall Street Journal, "Federal judge blocks new Texas abortion law"; and from CultureMap Houston, "Ten new Texas laws you need to know."

Let me know if your favorite new law didn't make the list.


rodsmith said...

interesting. wonder if this part is retroactive!

"Law enforcement agencies are required to submit DNA evidence in active sexual assault cases to an accredited laboratory within 30 days of receipt."

could be ONLY way to get all those dusty rape kits done!

Robert Langham said...

You can vote for conservative, limited government, you just can't GET it.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I dunno boys I'm just pissed that we didnt get any new Oyster related felonies, what's this world comin to???

Don said...

HC: I feel your pain but at least we got a new catfish law. People on the coast get a bigger share of lege's time and energy, so we inland folks want to be legislated at too! :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Homeless, et. al, there's also the new law making it a third degree felony to lie about a fish's size in a tournament, so we did get our share of new seafood-related crimes. Last session we got a new oyster-related Class A, so don't be greedy! :)

Prison Doc said...

I always wondered about the health of the Texas Oyster Fishery, at least it is good to know that it thrives in a legal sense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jassetin, as of today you can petition a court for an indigency determination. See here.

Phillip Baker said...

I'm just SO proud of our Lege. These worthy statesmen and women struggled mightily with the burning issues of the day. Photo ID will block all that massive voter fraud. (What was it last year? 6-8 cases, several resolved as mistakes). Noodling catfish. Now THAT was just eating at me, keeping me in the noodling closet for fear of arrest. Now I can proudly noodle in daylight. OMG! And a felony for lying about fish size at a tourney? Shame on those tourneys for not verifying submissions and leaving it to our Lege to stop the rampant fishing tourney frauds.
We can all sleep better tonight. But wait, do we know where our Guv is ???

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits,

Regarding Full Pardons - for innocence. Any chance you would consider authoring a bill to address the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles 'Clemency Section' - Doing away with requiring applicants to seek & obtain Letters of Recommendation from all three original trial officials.

I'd do it myself if I had the juice and knew the process.

As it is, there are absolutely no incentives to cooperate with or reply to the applicants. This is basically the same as allowing the DA & ADAs to deny/ignore DNA testing requests. Thanks.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thomas, what do you think should be the requirement instead?

Anonymous said...

How many of these new laws refer to oysters?

sakset said...

It is very well designed. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Is the Texas Legislature obsessed with oysters or is it Grits bloggers?

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Instead of immediately replying with what I personally think, I decided to take it directly to the applicants. Full Pardon - for innocence only.

20 out of 30, replied that they'd rather see the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles be tasked with the sole responsibility of the entire process. Removing the Governor, Original Three Trial Officials & Clemency Section from the Full Pardon - for innocence process totally. Requiring them to publicly publish the applicant's name, date of application, date of Board's reply. Requiring each Board Member to supply the reason(s) for his/her Approving and Denying.

Scott, the current system isn't broken, it's rigged and operated by both parties for years at any given time. Secrecy, the inclusion of the original three trial officials that change with each election cycle having no incentives to reply whatsoever makes it a running joke.

*Maybe GFB could consider posing the question to the readers in the future? Thanks.