I’m a bit tardy with this end-of-special-session update to wrap up the first special session. In addition to identifying bills that passed during the special session, I wanted to provide a brief overview of the texting-while-driving law that went into effect on September 1st since many have asked me to do so.
Bills Passed During Special Session
As you know, the Legislature did not pass any bills during the special session that directly impacts the civil trial and appellate practice areas. Instead, the special session produced 12 bills that addressed nine of the 20 items on Governor Abbott’s special session agenda. They are as follows:
· HB 7 - Municipal regulation of the removal of trees on private property (effective December 1, 2017).
· HB 13 - Reporting requirements by physicians and health care facilities for abortion complications (effective November 14, 2017).
· HB 21 - Public school finance, including funding for the recruitment and retention of teachers and the support of participants in the public school employees group insurance program (majority of bill’s provisions are effective November 14, 2017).
· HB 30 - Transfer of appropriations to the Texas Education Agency and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the adjustment of appropriations for public school finance (effective August 16, 2017).
· HB 214 - Health plan and health benefit plan coverage for elective abortion (effective December 1, 2017).
· HB 215 - Reporting and certification requirements by certain physicians regarding certain abortions (effective November 14, 2017).
· SB 5 - Prevention of fraud in the conduct of an election (effective December 1, 2017).
· SB 6 - Municipal annexation (effective December 1, 2017).
· SB 11 - General procedures and requirements for certain do-not-resuscitate orders (effective April 1, 2018).
· SB 17 - Maternal health and safety, pregnancy-related deaths, and maternal morbidity, including postpartum depression (effective August 16, 2017).
· SB 20 - Avoiding the abolishment of Texas Medical Board, Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and Texas Board of Social Work Examiners subject to the Texas Sunset Act (effective August 11, 2017).
· SB 60 - Repeal of riders for the Texas Medical Board and the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists from the General Appropriations Act that were contingent upon the approval of the 85th Legislature continuing those agencies (effective August 11, 2017).
All of the aforementioned bills have been signed into law.
Overview of Texting-While-Driving Law
As of September 1st, texting and using other types of electronic messaging while driving is illegal in Texas. HB 62 prohibits drivers from using “a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Under the new law, "electronic message" means “data that is read from or entered into a wireless communication device for the purpose of communicating with another person.” However, it is an affirmative defense to prosecution if a driver uses a portable wireless communication device in conjunction with a hands-free device or to do, among other things, the following: (1) navigate using a GPS or other navigation system; (2) report illegal activity, summon emergency help, or enter information into an app that provides information relating to traffic and road conditions to app users; (3) read an electronic message that the person reasonably believed concerned an emergency; or (4) to activate a function that plays music. Of course, drivers may still get pulled over if a police officer suspects them of texting or using the device for other prohibited purposes.
HB 62 includes provisions intended to preempt local texting-and-driving ordinances; however, it does not necessarily supersede stricter bans (i.e., hands-free laws) that currently exist in many Texas cities. For your convenience, I have attached a Word document with a partial list of local entities known to have adopted some form of anti-texting or electronic messaging ordinances. Also, here is a link to Dallas attorney Jeff Rasansky’s blog, which provides an excellent overview of the law (post-HB 62) and summarizes several municipal ordinances currently in effect: http://www.jrlawfirm.com/blog/texas-texting-and-driving-laws/#hands-free.
Violations of the law enacted by HB 62 are punishable by a fine of $25-99 for first-time offenders; $100-200 for repeat offenders. HB 62 also provides that, if an accident caused by prohibited conduct results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, the driver can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year (in addition to any other charges or penalties).
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions. If I do not know the answers, I’ll do my best to find someone who does.
Until next time,
Co-Chair, Legislative Liaison Committee
State Bar of Texas Appellate Section
Jerry D. Bullard*
Adams, Lynch & Loftin, P.C.
3950 Highway 360
Grapevine, Texas 76051
* Board Certified - Civil Appellate Law
Texas Board of Legal Specialization