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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Texas speed limit increase and other new laws

This September in the Lone Star State means the return of school, football and the enactment of nearly 1,500 new laws passed by Texas lawmakers. Androvett Legal Media & Marketing has compiled its list of the top 10 new Texas laws that take effect on Sept. 1, with comments from lawyers with related expertise.

1. Concussions in sports (HB2038): Any student-athlete showing signs of a concussion must be removed immediately from the game or practice and evaluated by doctor.

“This is a great step for the safety of student athletes in Texas,” says The Lanier Law Firm’s Gene Egdorf, who has successfully represented injured student athletes and their families. “The University Interscholastic League has had some safeguards for players showing concussion symptoms, but getting these student-athletes checked out by a physician will help ensure that they are fit to play.”

2. Paddling prevention (HB359): Parents may now forbid school districts from using corporal punishment on children.

“This is a small victory in the war to prevent child abuse,” says Jeff Rasansky, whose clients at the Rasansky Law Firm include families whose children who have suffered abuse from caregivers at daycare centers. “Many people are still surprised to learn that children are abused physically, emotionally or sexually by daycare or other child care providers like nannies, babysitters, family members or teachers.”

3. Funeral protests (HB718): Those who want to picket a Texas funeral must end their protests three hours before a funeral begins. Protestors also must wait for three hours to pass when funeral services conclude.

“This law is certain to be challenged on constitutional grounds,” says appellate lawyerRick Thompson, whose practice at Dallas-based Hankinson Levinger includes constitutional law.

4. Speedier roadways (HB1201/HB1353): Texas’ new top speed limit becomes 85 mph, and truckers will no longer have a lower nighttime speed limit. The 85 mph speed limit will be applied only to Texas roads deemed suitable by state officials.

“Even though the law says that the 85 mph speed limit will be permitted only on highways designed to accommodate travel at that speed, this doesn't account for human errors that we know are common in driving, as well as the mechanical failures that are bound to happen at such high speeds,” says Steven C. Laird, whose practice at The Law Offices of Steven C. Laird includes trucking wrecks caused by driver carelessness, sleep deprivation, intoxication, fires, bad brakes and other preventable events.

5. Rape tests (SB1616): This law creates a faster timetable for the DNA testing process, requiring police investigators to submit rape-kit evidence for lab review within 30 days of collection. Those labs must then test the samples within three months.

“There is no additional funding for this new law,” says Chuck Noteboom, whose practice at Noteboom – The Law Firm includes representing victims of sexual abuse and assaults in civil actions. “There’s little doubt it will cost more for investigators and taxpayer-funded crime labs – who are already understaffed – to expedite their workloads.”

6. AMBER alert expansion (HB1075): This law expands the use of AMBER alerts to help locate adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities.

“Many would be surprised to learn how common it is for adult caregivers to lose track of their developmentally disabled patients and relatives,” says Jeff Rasansky of the Rasansky Law Firm. “This law will employ the vast resources of the AMBER network to help find these individuals.”

7. Driver’s ed screening (HB2678): All instructors of driver’s education will be screened for felonies, including sex offenses, before they’re allowed to teach.

“This amounts to a Band-Aid on an amputation,” says Chuck Noteboom of Noteboom – The Law Firm. “If they really want to protect people, they should eliminate Texas’ statute of limitations on sexual assault charges, because 80 percent of all rapes go unreported, mostly due to shame and repressed memories.”

8. Don’t mess with H20 (HB451): The state will implement its “Don't Mess With Texas Water” program, and signage at major highway water crossings will feature a toll-free hotline to report polluters. “The goal here is fiscal efficiency,” says Houston lawyer Todd Mensing of Ahmad Zavitsanos & Anaipakos, who represents Harris County in pollution cases. “These are lean budgetary times. This is a low-cost, but potentially highly effective deterrent for illegal dumping, which is a growing public health concern in this state.”

9. Bar violence (HB2707): The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission or a county judge will be able to refuse to issue or renew alcohol-sales permits to bars with a history of bar fights or other violence.

“This new law puts a premium on each bar not just adopting, but rigorously implementing employee training and enforcing responsible retailer policies, which is a big part of my practice,” says Andy Siegel from Shackelford Melton & McKinley, whose practice includes alcoholic beverage regulation. “It also means that bar and restaurant owners will need legal counsel to help design preventive programs and be ready to act to challenge any alleged violations in order to allow for continued business operations.”

10. Pork chopper (HB716): Texas landowners may lease helicopter seats for feral hog and coyote hunts on their property.

“I am very much in favor of helicopter shooting of feral hogs,” says Curtis L. Frisbie Jr.<, an antitrust and commercial litigation lawyer at Gardere Wynne Sewell, and an avid hunter. “They are a pest and a menace, and cause a lot of property damage. Ask any Texas rancher. The National Rifle Association says that feral hogs cause an estimated $400 million in damages in Texas every year. Texas has the largest population of feral hogs in the US. It is estimated by some that there are 4 million feral hogs in U.S.That number will only increase.”

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