700 new Texas laws to take effect

By Cassie Smith

The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

(MCT)

Sept. 01–Texas is cracking down on drunk driving with a tougher law that takes effect Thursday.

A driver whose blood-alcohol level is .15 or higher will face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. The previous charge was a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of six months behind bars.

It’s one of about 700 bills passed by state lawmakers in Austin during the regular legislative session and a 30-day special session. Many of the laws become effective Thursday, while others will go on the books in 2012.

Brazos County Attorney Rod Anderson said a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher is almost double the legal limit.

College Station police arrested 53 people in July for DWI, compared to 26 people last year, a 104 percent increase. So far this year, the department has arrested 273 people for DWI.

Police officers are now allowed to apply for a warrant to take a blood sample of suspected inebriated motorists even if that individual refuses, to determine if the blood-alcohol level is higher than the Texas legal limit of .08.

Anderson said one new law targets the stealing of copper by raising the theft of precious metals to a felony.

The theft of many types of metals were previously listed as a misdemeanor if stolen, he said.

“With all the copper theft, they really changed it to upgrade the penalty to dissuade people from those acts,” he said.

Another new law will require voters to show photo identification along with a registration card before casting ballots. The law permits other forms of government-issued photo identification, such as a state photo ID, a military ID, a passport or a concealed handgun license.

Other laws include:

–The signs designating a speed limit of 65 mph for nights and trucks on most highways will be removed by the end of the year, with the 70 mph limit to remain in effect for both days and nights. The Texas Transportation Commission can also set highway speeds at 75 mph, up from the current 70 mph limit on most non-urban state highways. The change is permitted as long as a safety study deems it reasonable.

–School districts are now required to recondition football helmets every two years once they have been used for a decade. Helmets that are 16 years old or older must be sidelined permanently.

–Texans charged with killing a child age 10 or younger — expanded from age 6 or younger — might be charged with capital murder and face the death penalty. Some repeat offenders convicted of certain sex offenses will be sentenced to life without parole.

–Pre-abortion sonograms are required as of Thursday. The law mandates that doctors describe the fetus’ features and let the women hear the fetal heartbeat.

However, the Center for Reproductive Rights had sued to block the law. A federal judge in Austin granted a temporary injunction, ruling the main portions violate the First Amendment.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott said he plans to appeal the ruling.

–Parents now have the right to forbid schools from using corporal punishment on their children. Schools now need parent approval. Texas is one of 19 states still allowing paddling.

–Minors who send sexual pictures and texts with cell phones will face misdemeanor charges. Repeat offenses could mean jail time. The sexting conviction can be removed from the minor’s record at age 18.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.