Sen. Robert Nichols: My Five Cents
This Monday, September 2, is Labor Day. During this last hurrah of the summer, whether you are among the many who are traveling or staying at home, I hope that you have a safe and enjoyable weekend with your friends and family.
1. Final passage of SJR 1
The third special session adjourned with the final passage of SJR 1. This constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November 2014. If approved by voters a portion of the oil and gas severance tax will be used for the state’s roads and bridges and will be the first new revenue stream for transportation in over a decade. I am thankful for the passage of this bill, and know that it will go a long way in helping to solve transportation funding issues in the great State of Texas.
2. Interim charges
As students are coming off their summer vacation and adjusting to homework after school, the Legislature is beginning to come up with ideas for what our homework will be over the next year and a half. Because the Legislature only meets in odd-numbered years for just 140 days, there is a limited amount of time for laws to be passed. Interim charges give us a way to study and examine the different sides of an issue, provide suggestions for solutions and begin work on potential legislation for the next session.
The Lieutenant Governor assigns these charges to the Senate, and the Speaker of the House makes assignments for the House. Any member, however, may make a suggestion for a charge. My office keeps an ongoing list of ideas and most of them come from suggestions from our constituents. If you have a request or suggestion for a topic that could be studied, please let me or my staff know.
3. Bills going into effect on September 1
In the last legislative and three special sessions, many bills were passed and signed into law. While some of those went into effect the day they were signed by the Governor, most did not. Many are delayed until September 1 of the legislative year, or until the next year to give state agencies and the public time to become aware of new laws or changes to current law. It also marks the beginning of the fiscal year and the new budget cycle, which is important to note as some bills require funding to be put into action.
There are 659 bills which go into effect on September 1, 2013. Some of these you might be familiar with such as SB 181 which allows a driver to display their proof of insurance on their smart phone, SB 1907 which allows college students to keep their concealed weapon in their car on campus property and the craft brewery “beer” bills which allow for the selling of a limited amount of beer on-site as well as to distributors such as restaurants.
4. The dog days of hunting
As hunting season approaches, hunters will be able to add another tool to their hunting gear this year. Over the past few months the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has held public hearings to consider a new law making it legal to use up to two dogs to trail a wounded deer. In 1990, TPWD adopted a law restricting the use of deer hunting dogs in 34 East Texas counties because they believed that the unlawful use of hunting dogs could lead to a decrease in the deer population. A few years later they eased the restriction in 10 of those counties, and now they have recently added 12 more counties which will be able to use deer hunting dogs. The 10 remaining restricted counties include Angelina, Hardin, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby and Tyler.
5. Changes in concealed handgun laws
Beginning next month those applying for a first time Concealed Handgun License (CHL) will have a reduced amount of class time. Current law requires at least 10 and no more than 15 hours of classroom instruction including a physical demonstration of skill on a shooting range. SB 864 modifies the law by making classes a minimum of four hours and a maximum of six hours, plus a separate range segment that has no time limit. For current CHL holders the renewal process has become even easier. They will no longer have to attend a refresher class, but simply submit an application and fee to renew.