Lawmakers go easy on average Texans

June 1, 2009 4:29:00 PM PDT
Rest easy, Average Joe. The Texas Legislature closed its 140-day session Monday without changing too much of your daily routine. Not to say they scooted out of Austin without tweaking a few things that could make your life a wee bit easier -- or harder.

It will cost more for that pinch between your cheek and gum and your 14-year-old daughters won't be able to cook themselves in a tanning bed any more. And get ready parents, children under the age of 8 will soon have to ride in booster seats.

Lawmakers meet every two years with the goal of making Texans' lives better. Activists rally, lobbyists lobby and special interests bring their special touch to bending lawmakers' ears.

Sessions always result in some changes for the Average Joe, but this one is notable for taking a more modest tone than some previous ones and for some of the proposed changes that failed.

You still can't buy alcohol from a liquor store on Sunday but you can still smoke 'em if you got 'em. A plan to ban smoking in most public places, including bars and restaurants, was snuffed out after a bitter fight. So was an idea to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 19.

Texas' wild west reputation took a bit of a hit. If you want to pack your pistol on a college campus, that's still illegal. So is bringing it in your car to work if your boss says you can't.

And lawmakers preserved the sanctity of chicken fried steak when they ultimately trashed a proposed ban on trans fats in restaurants, leaving Texans to get as (trans)fat as they want.

The biggest change on Texas' highways and byways affects some of the smallest Texans. Starting June 2010, children under age 8 will have to ride in a booster seat in a passenger vehicle and drivers could face fines up to $25 for violations. Supporters say it's about safety by getting young children to sit up so the seat belt fits properly.

Drivers will not be able to use hand-held cell phones in an active school zone. Handsfree devices would be OK. Break the law and face a $50 fine.

On the education front, public school teachers get an extra $800 and parents will get a price break on school supplies in the annual August sales tax holiday.

Top-performing high school students will find it harder to get into the University of Texas after lawmakers capped admissions under the Top 10 percent rule to 75 percent at the Austin campus.

Jocks will get a small break from steroid testing. Lawmakers scaled back steroid testing of public school athletes. The program still calls for pulling thousands of students out of class to urinate in a cup, just not as many as the past two years.

Young cowboys are in for a change as well. Children must wear a protective vest when bull riding in a rodeo.

While some teenagers are sweating it out on the fields of play or in the dirt of the rodeo ring, others are going to find that tanning booths are now off limits to anyone under 16 1/2.

Adult smokers can keep on puffing, but chewers will have to dig deeper in their wallets thanks to a tax increase on smokeless tobacco. If you're the small business owner selling that can of dip or wad of chew, however, you'll get a tax break.

Hunters can add a new weapon to their arsenals. The use of crossbows is now allowed during bow hunting season, not just open hunting season, to bag game.

Getting married? The Legislature has something for you, too: Now municipal judges can perform the ceremony.

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