Earlier this year, legislators from around Texas made their way to Austin for the bi-annual ritual that is the Texas Legislature. In addition to the requisite drama, scandal, mud-slinging and political posturing, the Texas legislators managed to pass more than a thousand new laws, many of which took effect last month. But most of us have no clue about what they say or which ones actually play a role in our daily lives.
Here are some of the logical, interesting or downright unusual laws that could impact your life.
Concussions and school sports
The recent national trend to treat head injuries with more caution has made its way to Texas student athletes. Putting safety before the overzealous desire to get back into the game, new laws dictate that any student athlete showing signs of a concussion must be removed from the game (or practice) immediately and evaluated by a doctor prior to continuing play.
Hunting and fishing, Texas style
Several new laws were passed that impact hunting and fishing activities in Texas. Noodling—the barehanded fishing method derived from Native American fishing techniques that involves sticking your fingers, hand, and arm into underwater holes to use as bait for catching catfish (a practice that has become more famous in recent years with film documentaries like “Okie Noodling” and the reality television show “Hillbilly Handfishin'”)—has been officially legalized, thereby allowing all Texas fishermen to legally (and literally) take fishing into their own hands. Another new law, dubbed by some in the media as the “pork chopper” law, is intended to curb the population growth of feral hogs, which the Texas Wildlife Service estimates can cause more than $400 million of property damage annually. The new law allows landowners facing problems caused by feral hogs and coyotes to lease their property for feral hog and coyote hunts by helicopter.
The more recent phenomenon of teenage sexting—sending sexually explicit pictures or messages, typically from one cell phone to another—now comes with potentially stiffer legal consequences. Minors who are caught sexting can be charged with a misdemeanor, a penalty that could ultimately lead to serving time behind bars for repeat-offenders. There are some exceptions, such as for minors who are involved in a “dating relationship," but good luck to Texas courts trying to define what that means for teenagers. An underlying reason for heightening the ability to punish sexting is to encourage parents to pay closer attention to their kids' cell phone behaviors.
Childcare and prescribing medicine to kids
Childcare workers are now required by law to obtain written parental permission before giving medicine to children in their care. Childcare worker who fail to comply with this law could face criminal penalties.
For years we’ve seen the dual speed limit signs along the interstate—the standard limit and its black nighttime counterpart that typically requires motorists to reduce their speed once the sun goes down. In an effort to create speed limit uniformity, a change that will hopefully minimize problems like multiple lane changes and tailgating, there will no longer be separate speeds for night driving. In addition, some Central Texas highways (sections of I-35, SH 130 and SH 45 in Bell, Travis, Burnet and Williamson counties) have increased the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph. The new top-end speed limit for Texas roadways has increased to 85 mph. But before your lead foot gets the better of you, it’s important to note that the new 85 mph speed limit will only be applied to Texas roads deemed suitable for increased speed by state officials.
Boating safety for minors
There are more than 600,000 boats registered with the State of Texas. In an effort to reduce accidents on Texas waterways, Texas law now requires boaters born after September 1, 1993 to not only complete a boater safety education course, but to keep a valid ID and proof of passing the course with them on the boat at all times. In addition, a driver must be at least 13-years-old to operate a boat with a motor greater than 15 horsepower, or if younger than 13, there must be someone older than 18 on board to legally operate the boat.
Get your guns… and drive them to work
Employers have historically had some discretion in prohibiting their employees who legally own guns and ammunition from bringing the firearms to work. According to a new law, in most situations those employees (who legally own guns and ammunition) will now be able to bring them to their place of work, leaving them locked in their private automobiles. The law applies to guns and ammunition to be stored in parking areas designated for employees, but features exceptions such as prohibiting this from federal buildings and school parking lots.
Ever get the feeling that some bars are a bit rougher than others? Owners of those "rougher" watering holes should note the new bar violence law, which allows the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (or a county judge) to refuse to issue or renew alcohol-sales permits to establishments with a history of violence or bar fights.