Do you “really” know the law in Texas?
Come September 1, you had better know it, because that’s when several new laws that were passed during the 85th Legislative Session, and eventually signed by Governor Greg Abbott, will go into effect; immediately having an impact on residents across the Lone Star State.
For those of you who are unaware of the new laws on the books, the Forward Times is here to help. Many of these laws will severely impact the African American community, so it is important to do your research and better understand how these new laws will impact you.
Here is a list of some of the new laws going into effect on Sep. 1:
Texting While Driving is ‘No More’
After years and years of lawmakers attempting to get this law passed, they were finally successful during the 85th Legislative Session, in that texting while driving is banned all across the state of Texas, and will now be punishable by fine. Texas will climb aboard the train and join the majority of other states in the U.S., by becoming the 47th state to issue a statewide ban on texting while driving. According to the law, no driver will be allowed to “read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped,” which could pose problems for many motorists who merely have the appearance of texting while driving. It will be important to avoid texting while driving at all costs, to avoid being stopped, because if you are stopped, cited and found guilty, the first offense comes with a fine that will cost you anywhere from $25 to $99. Another important thing to note is that the law does allow motorists to use their phone to use their GPS navigation app and to use their phone to access their downloaded music and control their vehicle’s stereo system.
New Voter ID Changes: What’s the Latest?
Look out Texas voters, the controversial Voter ID law that has caused a statewide stir, has been modified, particularly in ways that are better than what had originally been passed and signed into law in 2011 by then-Governor Rick Perry. According to the new law, Texans will still be required to show their photo IDs when they go to vote at the polls, but there are a few alternatives now. The new law will allow voters to show a non-photo ID at the polls, such as a bank statement or a utility bill, which shows the voter’s name and home address. For those who present a valid non-photo ID at the polls, they will also have to sign an affidavit that will formally certify that it is their true identity upon casting their vote. For those who’ve been following this issue, you know that the Texas voter ID law has been challenged legally since it went into effect, and that a federal judge – Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas – initially ruled back in 2014 that the original Voter ID law “had a discriminatory impact” and that there had been a “pattern of conduct unexplainable on grounds other than (the) race factor.”
There are several laws going into effect relative to the educational arena, such as:
Students No Longer Get Denied Hot Meals for Lack of Funds
This will come as a welcomed new law for many families who have been doing the best they can to make sure their children have lunch money to eat a hot meal at school. Currently, in schools across Texas, children who would rack up a school lunch debt were treated like outcasts and cafeteria workers are instructed to serve cold sandwiches to students, in place of a hot meal. This new law doesn’t eliminate the school lunch debt from being paid, but it does provide parents with an extended grace period to pay off the debt, while still allowing the students who show up to school with no money to still eat a hot lunch and avoid embarrassment.
Sexual Assault Crimes and Human Trafficking Get More Attention
Several new laws have been signed into law that will help deal with the ever-growing issues of sexual assault and human trafficking, especially on college campuses. One of the new laws that passed and went into effect immediately, allows college students and college employees to submit electronic and anonymous reports of sexual assaults to their respective institutions, which they hope will help decrease the numbers of rapes committed on college campuses. Another law that has already gone into effect, states that public junior colleges and career schools and colleges who offer commercial driver’s license training must also include training on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking. Lastly, another law that passed gives students who are witnesses to sexual assault, and who choose to report that crime, amnesty if they were involved in another form of illegal activity, such as underage drinking, at the time they witnessed the sexual assault.
Eliminates School Suspensions – Students under Third Grade
This new law, which went into effect already, eliminates the action that many advocacy groups despised, of schools suspending students below the third grade. Now, instead of placing these young students in either an in-school or out-of-school suspension, each school district now is responsible for coming up with an alternative method of discipline that is more appropriate based on the age of the students, and that is research-based and that provides models for positive behavior. There are several exceptions that usurp the law, such as if a student brings a weapon to school or brings illegal drugs or alcohol to school.
Another Path to Get Your High School Diploma
Governor Abbott signed this into law, after state legislators voted to extend this program through September 1, 2019. The law allows high school students who have failed one or two end-of-course exams that are required for graduation, to still get their diploma if a graduation committee is able to determine whether a student should graduate based on factors like their attendance record or their grades in certain subjects, along with other factors.
David’s Law Combats School Bullying
To combat school bullying, this new state law makes it a Class A misdemeanor to harass someone under the age of 18 through text messages, websites, on social media, or through any other methods electronically with the sole intent of encouraging them to cause harm to themselves or that leads them to commit suicide. Currently, the penalty is a Class B misdemeanor, but lawmakers hope to see this new penalty reduce the bullying. Another important note is that the law will allow individuals to secure a Temporary Restraining Order against any social media account(s) that are being used to harass or bully children.
Other new laws that will go into effect by September 1 include:
Relatives Get More Resources to Take Care of Abused Children
Because state legislators recognized the need to fix the troubled foster care system in Texas, they passed legislation that has been signed into law that directs the state to pay $350 per month to the families who are providing care for the abused or neglected children they are related to. Currently, the state has been only paying families $1,000 at the start and just $500 a year for the overall care of these abused or neglected children.
Get Yourself A Gun…It’s Cheaper Now
Effective September 1, the fees for carrying a gun in Texas have gone down, thanks to Senate Bill 16. According to this new law, the fee for a first-time license to carry a handgun is being lowered to $40 from $140, while the renewal fee is being reduced to $40 from $70, making the fees in Texas the lowest in the nation once the law takes effect.
‘Second Chance’ for Formerly Incarcerated, Non-Violent Offenders
According to this new law, anyone who has been convicted of one low-level offense will be allowed to request an order of nondisclosure from a court after they pay restitution and serve out their sentence. This is huge news in that this will provide a form of relief for individuals who have been convicted for things such as a nonviolent Class C misdemeanor. One major change, which could serve as a drawback for many, is that law enforcement agencies and a select group of other groups, will be able to view the records of individuals whenever they feel it necessary, versus their criminal records being sealed from public view as it currently is.
Nobody Has to Know You Hit the Lottery
According to data compiled by the School of Urban and Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Arlington, 58 percent of African Americans play the Texas Lottery. Well, now if you are one of the big time winners of $1 million or more playing the Texas Lottery, you can choose to remain incognito, because the state will no longer require you to have your personal information disclosed to the media.
Blue Lives Matter…With a Legislative Boost
Okay, Texans! Blue Lives Matter is more than just a slogan in Texas, in that our state legislators have joined in with several other states, including our neighbors to the east of us, to pass a law to make it a hate crime to attack police officers. According to the law, if a person knowingly attacks a law enforcement officer or damages the property of a member of law enforcement, they could be found guilty of a hate crime in Texas. Back in May 2016, John Bel Edwards, the recently elected Democratic governor of the state of Louisiana, became the first governor to sign this new hate crime legislation (HB 953) into law, adding police officers and firefighters to the list of protected groups in this country, with heightened penalties that are levied against people who are charged with targeting and committing a hate crime against them. So just like in Louisiana, Texas has now added law enforcement officials to its existing list of groups protected against hate crimes such as those attacked because of race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. This is an extremely interesting law, in that it is extremely vague and there are many questions swirling around as to what evidence would be used in a court of law to determine the innocence or guilt of someone accused of this serious offense. Many in the community believe the law, in itself, appears to be a true overreach, in that the original hate crime bills that became law were created for people groups who have a specific individual characteristic, such as the protected groups aforementioned, as opposed to groups of people who have a particular job or career, such as law enforcement officials. This law will truly be one to watch. Stay tuned!
Wait…What? Yes…People Can Walk Around With Swords Now
Watch out everyone! State lawmakers have now made it socially acceptable to walk around carrying swords and knives now in broad daylight. Be on the lookout and be careful!
There are many other laws that will be on the books come September 1, so the Forward Times would encourage all of you to familiarize yourselves with these, and seek to learn more about all of the laws on the Texas books. Hope this helps!