Texas' Looming Texting-While-Driving Ban Will Only Give Cops Another Excuse to Pull You Over

Lord Jim via Flickr
On Wednesday, the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a statewide ban on texting while driving, the third session in a row where this has happened. In 2013, the measure died in the Senate. In 2011, it was killed by Governor Rick Perry, who vetoed it on the grounds that it was a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults." With Greg Abbott now in the Governor's Mansion, it has at least a marginally better shot of being signed into law.

That's too bad, because Texas' proposed texting ban, which would impose up to a $200 fine on repeat offenders, is a mess.

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Texas Republicans and the "God-Given" Right to Carry Guns

Categories: Guns, Legislature

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them with firearms, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. I have given you every ammo-bearing Kalashnikov, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every Glock, in the which is the bullet containeth powder; to you it shall be for protection.

And to every place where man may walketh upon the earth, to every campus, in which his mind is filled with scholarly things, and to every waistband and shoulder holster, to you it shall be for carrying guns.

--Genesis 1:27-∞

It has become an article of faith for a certain stripe of Texas Republican. Owning guns -- and carrying them openly on one's hip and on college campuses without little or no government interference -- is not merely a right conferred upon Americans by the Founding Fathers; it was endowed by God. Here is freshman state Representative Matt Rinaldi of Irving opining on his issues page that "our God-given Second Amendment right to bear arms cannot be infringed." (Property rights are also handed down by God.) And here is newby state Senator Don Huffines, in pushing a bill to support "constitutional" (i.e. unlicensed) carrying of handguns, referencing Texans' "God-given liberty to protect and defend themselves and their families." Another freshman state representative, Tony Tinderholdt, has listed openly carrying guns as one of those "inalienable ... God-given rights."

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Dallas State Rep. Jason Villalba Wants to Restrict Where Citizens Can Photograph Cops

Categories: Legislature

BritAE, via Wikipedia
State Representative Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican, is close to a lot of cops. The best man in his wedding was a police officer. So is his uncle and various other friends and family members. So when his friends in the law enforcement community suggested the creation of a 25-foot "halo" around police operations to keep increasingly ubiquitous citizen-photographers from interfering with their duties, he filed a bill -- HB 2918 -- to do exactly that. It would create a separate, 100-foot halo for any photographer carrying a handgun.

Anyone caught filming within the 25-foot radius could be prosecuted for a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. For gun-carriers who step within 100 feet, it would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

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Texas Lawmakers Want to Make It Harder (or Even Impossible) for Police to Seize Property

Texas has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country. In 2010, the Institute for Justice gave the state a grade of D- in terms of how easy it is for police to take property allegedly linked to criminal activity, and how hard it is for the property owner to get it back. It's not everywhere that a petty thief can get his pickup seized for stealing a few cases of beer.

Past legislative session have yielded reforms that have addressed some of the most egregious abuses. In the wake of cops and prosecutors teaming up to shakedown out-of-town motorists in tiny Tenaha, Texas, for instance, Texas lawmakers decided that cops couldn't have people sign away their property rights on the side of the highway.

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Citing Plano's Anti-LGBT Discrimination Law, Jason Villalba Moves to Protect "Religious Freedoms"

Categories: Legislature

Stanton Stevens
Only the most serious, non-pandering lawmaker would don slacks and a blazer to take his kids to the zoo.
In his first term as North Dallas' state representative, Jason Villalba established himself as a serious, policy-minded lawmaker focused on finding common-sense solutions to important problems, like freeing Mavs fans from stupid and outdated liquor laws. Unapologetically conservative, to be sure, but in a reasonable, non-pandering way that has won respect, if not agreement, from a lot of those to his political left. Even when he carried a bill to arm school employees post-Sandy Hook, it seemed less like he was trolling liberals than addressing a matter of legitimate concern with a controversial but careful and measured piece of legislation.

Wednesday, he veered off course and proposed an amendment to the state constitution barring state agencies and local governments from "burden[ing] in any way a person 's free exercise of religion." Before he posted a link on Facebook to a hyperventilating Empower Texans article describing Plano's passage of an ordinance barring various forms of anti-gay discrimination. Villalba wrote:

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Texas Cops Are Going to Fight Like Hell Against Cell-Phone Privacy Protections

Categories: Legislature

Mark Fahey
Last night in Houston two masked men, armed with a revolver and a shotgun, stormed a Denny's and raided the cash register. The same scene has played out on security footage at dozens of Houston-area IHOPs and Denny's, albeit occasionally with bloodshed.

Houston police officer James Taylor, testifying before a Texas Senate committee this morning, said the department's investigative efforts have been fatally hamstrung by its inability to acquire cell-phone location data without a warrant.

"The inability for us to access data has led us to being unable to catch them," Taylor told the committee.

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The Future of Women's Healthcare in Texas Looks Bleak. What's Next?

Stephen Young
One of two Dallas clinics that will remain open.
Listening to the oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday confirmed what advocates for reproductive rights feared upon seeing the three-judge panel selected to hear the Texas' appeal of a lower-court ruling striking down two sections of House Bill 2, the 2013 legislation enacted to restrict access to abortion. Two of the judges, Jerry E. Smith and Jennifer Elrod, seemed ready to rule in favor of the state, as they did in a previous challenge to HB2. They peppered Stephanie Toti, the attorney representing the clinics bringing the challenge, with questions about whether reducing the number of abortion providers in the state to eight would actually pose an "undue burden" to women in the state seeking abortions.

As defined in federal case law, a law fails to meet the undue burden standard if it is too restrictive of one's fundamental rights. The standard has also been applied when a law lacks what former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called a "legitimate, rational justification."

No major medical organization has ever agreed with the contention made by proponents of HB2 and similar laws that its major requirements -- that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that clinics providing abortions meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers -- make women safer. In fact, as Dr. Hal Lawrence, the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said, the full implementation of the law could lead to women seeking out illegal abortions or failing to get necessary prenatal care, endangering themselves in the process.

See also: How Texas' New Abortion Restrictions Have Actually Impacted Access to the Procedure

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Texas Cities Follow Dallas' Lead and Stand Up to Payday Lenders. Is the State Next?

That gleaming wad of cash comes with a 600+ percent interest rate, if Texas predatory lenders have anything to say about it.
In Dallas, the political atmosphere for payday lending reform is optimistic. After three years of ordinances limiting lending practices, the local movement has spread to 17 other cities across the state. Today, Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen went before the Amarillo City Council to try and recruit that city to the fight club against loan sharks. "The momentum just continues to gain," Allen told Unfair Park. "After the 2011 session, I realized that the state wasn't really going to do anything so I got back and worked with the city."

And increased limitations can't come quickly enough: Texas has some of the most lax lending laws in the country, with the highest surcharges. There is no cap on lending fees, and some interest rates soar over 600 percent. Moreover, statewide payday lending reform has failed in the Legislature for the past three sessions.

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TxDOT Told Woman Her Ten Commandments Sign Was an Ad, Is Now Backtracking

Categories: Legislature

George Bannister
The Ten Commandments are OK in their original tablet format, but not as giant signs along the highway.
If you think Texas' highways are too beautiful to sully with cheap, unpermitted signs, you're not alone. Under the Highway Beautification Transportation Code, the Texas Department of Transportation has some very strict, un-Texas-like regulations dictating the types of signs people can display. First, for what is allowed: businesses along highways can post signs on their own premises, advertising for themselves.

Seems fair, until you learn what isn't allowed, at least not without a very expensive permitting process: signs displayed on private property that advertise for something other than yourself. That includes the words of the Lord.

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Sandra Crenshaw, Mental Illness and the Race for the Texas Legislature.

Categories: Legislature, Media

Sandra Crenshaw, talking with Schutze when she was on the City Council. during the Don Hill corruption trial in 2009.
No one who knows former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw would dispute her intelligence or obsessive dedication to public service. It's her long and well-documented history of erratic behavior, the most recent case involving the alleged theft of a rental car, that raises questions about her fitness to hold public office.

Suffice to say that pretty much everyone was flummoxed when The Dallas Morning News endorsed her in the race for Texas House District 110 over the weekend.

Weirder still, the editorial offers only glancing allusions to Crenshaw's past antics. She "has her own shortcomings," the paper writes, and is "no stranger to handcuffs." But if she is able to "slow down and focus," she will do a far better job than incumbent Toni Rose.

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