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New Laws Take Effect in Texas

Texting and Driving Punishable by Fines

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – On Friday, Sept. 1 well over 600 new laws became effective in the state of Texas. One of these new laws includes a ban on texting while driving.

The ban was imposed under Texas House Bill (HB) 62 and was put forward by State Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland).

According to the analysis of the bill by the state legislature, “Distracted driving continues to be a significant factor in property damage, injury, and death on this state’s roads and highways. Every day, nine Americans are killed from motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted driving, such as using a cell phone or texting.  Text messaging while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving.”

The bill analysis reported Texas was just one of four states “… with no statute that addresses distracted driving on a statewide level.”

The new law changes that by “… prohibiting the use of a wireless communication device for electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.”

Violators will be fined up to $99 for a first time offense and up to $200 for a repeated offense.

HB 1774 is another law that is starting to raise some eyebrows in the state of Texas given the events currently unfolding in southeast Texas related to Hurricane Harvey.

The new law will reduce the amount of money an insurance company can be penalized if it delays payments to a policyholder. The purpose of the law was to try and combat frivolous lawsuits.

Another law which went in to effect on Friday involves the length of knife blades. HB 1935 removes restrictions on the carry of knives in Texas except for knives with blades over 5-1/2 inches.

According to the American Knife and Tool Institute, “HB 1935 eliminates Bowie knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, poniards, swords and spears from the Texas statute 46.02 Unlawful Carrying Weapons and the definition of an illegal knife. Knives with blades over 5-1/2 inches will be defined as ‘location-restricted knives’ and will not be able to be carried in establishments that receive more than 51 percent of their revenue from alcoholic sales; high school, college or professional sporting events; correctional facilities; medical facilities; amusement parks; or places of religious worship.”

While the enactment of HB 1774 may have caused an arched eyebrow or two, Senate Bill 1232 has left many people shaking their heads.

“SB 1232 creates an offense in the Penal Code for the crime of ‘bestiality.’ Current law only classifies sexual crimes against animals as ‘public lewdness’ (Section 21.07, Penal Code),” according to the legislative bill analysis.

“An offense of this nature is (now) a state jail felony. If the animal is seriously harmed or killed in the commission of the offense, the offense is a second degree felony,” the analysis stated.

The City of Amarillo had recently passed an ordinance only making the offense a misdemeanor. It makes a person wonder about what actually goes on in West Texas.

SB 179 now makes it a Class A misdemeanor to electronically harass or cyberbully someone under age 18 through text messages, social media, websites or other means with the intent of causing them to commit suicide or harm themselves.

The bill would allow people to get temporary restraining orders against social media accounts used to harass or bully children, and it would require the creation of simple online forms for families to use to ask for such relief.

Other new laws of note include:

SB 693 – requiring new school buses to have shoulder and lap seat belts for all riders.

SB 16 – lowers the fee for handgun licenses from $140 to $40.

HB 1729 – Allows Texans to donate $1 or more when they get their driver licenses renewed to fund the testing of thousands of backlogged rape kits.

SB 725 – allows school employees to give leftover food to hungry students.

SB 275 – makes leaving the scene of an accident a second degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

HB 3535 – allows hunters to hunt feral hogs from a hot air balloon as long they have a permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

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