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New Texas Laws Going Into Effect

In nine days, a slew of new laws will go into effect in Texas. While the Texas legislature pass numerous new laws and regulations during the regular and recent special session, many are mundane, focused changes to the state’s labyrinth of laws. However, a few deserve special attention.

Most of the laws will start September 1, 2017, but a few have already taken effect.

Texas will become the 47th state to have a statewide ban on texting while driving. Motorists will not be allowed to “read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violators face a fine of $25 to $99 for a first offense. However, a driver can use a phone to control a car’s stereo system and to access a mapping app.

One of the most contentious laws to into is a statewide ban on “sanctuary cities,” a term used to describe cities and counties that do not fully comply with requests from federal immigration authorities in all cases. SB4 allows local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest. The law also impacts local elected officials who might not honor every request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold a person until their status can be investigated. A number of cities are currently challenging the law.

You will be able to carry bowie knives, swords and spears in public. However, big blades will be banned in bars that get most of their income from alcohol sales, along with schools, colleges, sporting events, polling places, race parks, correctional facilities, health care and nursing facilities, amusement parks and places of worship. Those under 18 years old are barred from carrying long knives in public unless they are under the supervision of a parent.

Ridesharing companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) are now free from most local city regulations, but drivers now have to provide electronic receipts to passengers, provide “all necessary information to the consumer before each ride” and follow a “zero-tolerance intoxication standard for drivers.” This law is already in effect.

The fees for carrying a gun in Texas will be cheaper. A new law lowers fees for a first-time license to carry a handgun to $40 from $140. The renewal fee is also reduced to $40 from $70.

David’s Law was launched to counter school bullying by making it a Class A misdemeanor to harass someone under age 18 through text messages, social media, websites or other electronic venues with the intent to cause them to harm themselves and commit suicide. It would permit people to obtain temporary restraining orders against social media accounts used to harass or bully children.

Voter ID changes are also coming in. Voters without the currently approved list of voter IDs will be allowed to cast their ballots if they show some other documentation with their name and home address, such as a bank statement or utility bill, plus signing an affidavit attesting to having a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a valid photo ID.

Schools will no longer be permitted suspend students below third grade. In place of both in-school or out-of-school suspensions, school districts must instead find alternative age-appropriate disciplinary plans for students that are research-based and provide models for positive behavior. Exceptions include students who bring a weapon, certain drugs or alcohol to school. This law is already in place.

‘Second chances’ for non-violent offenders will be available for those convicted of one low-level offense, such as a DWI with a blood alcohol level under 0.14 or nonviolent Class C misdemeanors. They will be allowed to request an order of nondisclosure from a court after they pay restitution and serve their sentence. This would seal their criminal records from public view, but it will permit law enforcement agencies and a few others to view the records when necessary.

Military personnel and their families overseas will have more time to cast their ballots by mail, up to six days after the date of the election. If that date falls on a weekend or holiday, then the deadline is extended to the next regular business day.

Texas lawmakers passed a bill that would require the burial of fetal remains, such as from abortions or miscarriages. While patients will not be required to decide how they want the remains disposed, their doctors will have to make arrangements to store and ensure the tissue is disposed of in accordance to the law. This law is also in the courts for review.

Parents will have more time to pay their children’s school lunch debt before the cafeteria worker stops serving hot lunches. The law creates a grace period for students who show up without money to continue eating hot lunches before they are “lunch shamed” by being given cold sandwiches.

Drones and other unmanned aircraft like drones are banned from operating over correctional and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities and large sports venues, except for law enforcement use or with permission from the operator of a sports venue.

An alternative path to a diploma will provided to high school seniors who fail one or two end-of-course exams required for graduation could get their diploma, anyway. Individual graduation committees can weigh whether the student should graduate based on factors like grades in relevant subjects, attendance and other measures.

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