FORT WORTH (AP) – Want to catch a catfish by hand or shoot a feral hog from a helicopter? Want to keep driving the daytime speed limit after the sun goes down?
You can do so legally in Texas starting Thursday, when about 700 new state laws take effect.
Those are about half the bills passed by state lawmakers in Austin during the regular legislative session and a 30-day special session, which combined lasted the first six months of the year. Some have already become laws, and others will take effect by the first of 2012.
On Thursday, the first day of the state’s fiscal year, Texans will be able to “noodle” — catch catfish using only their bare hands — and hunters can shoot feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters.
Drivers in Texas will no longer have to slow down to 65 mph at night on most highways but can keep driving the daytime speed limit. The 65 mph night and truck speed limit signs are to be removed from roads by year’s end, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
And the Texas Transportation Commission can set highway speeds at 75 mph, up from the current 70 mph limit on most non-urban state highways — as long as a safety study deems it to be reasonable. The department says it will evaluate 50,000 miles of state highways over the next two years.
Aimed at keeping public school athletes safe, a new law requires school districts to recondition football helmets every two years once they have been used a decade. Helmets that are 16 and older must be sidelined permanently.
Another law lets governments use eminent domain to seize private property only if it’s necessary for highways, schools or other public uses. The government then must make a “bona fide” offer to buy the property and pay landowners’ relocation expenses. A new law bans property seizure for private use, which was already prohibited by a 2009 constitutional amendment.
On election day, voters will be required to show photo identification before casting ballots.
Another new Texas law makes it a crime to impersonate someone online without obtaining his or her permission with the intent to harm, defraud, threaten or intimidate.
New legislation cracks down on drunken driving. If a suspected inebriated motorist refuses to give a blood sample, a police officer will be allowed to apply for a warrant to take a sample to determine if the blood-alcohol level is higher than the Texas legal limit of .08.
Also, a driver whose blood-alcohol level is .15 or higher will automatically face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. The previous charge was a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a six-month jail penalty.
And now in Texas, the capital murder charge that carries a possible death sentence if someone is convicted of killing a child applies to victims age 10 or younger. Previously, a suspect was charged with capital murder in a child’s death if the victim was 6 or younger. Also, some repeat offenders convicted of certain sex offenses will be sentenced to life without parole.
One law, the $172 billion two-year budget, didn’t raise taxes but cut spending by $15 billion, including $4 billion from public education.
A Texas bill requiring pre-abortion sonograms was to become law Thursday. The Center for Reproductive Rights had sued to block the law and a federal judge in Austin granted a temporary injunction Tuesday, ruling that the main portions violate the First Amendment. State Attorney General Greg Abbott said he plans to appeal the ruling.
The bill requires women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram and mandates that doctors describe the fetus’ features and let the women hear the fetal heartbeat. Then women must wait 24 hours before having the abortion — or two hours if they live more than 100 miles away from the nearest clinic. Women can opt out of the sonogram only in cases of rape, incest or fatal abnormalities of the fetus.
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