Aficionados of the James Bond series are familiar with the device known as a license plate flipper. It is my understanding that this is a device which, in a matter of seconds, changes the plate on a vehicle to a different one. It apparently debuted in James Bond movies, and has become a significant enough concern that the Texas Legislature passed no more than three new offenses concerning it! In the midst of everything else that they needed to do, they created an offense for the possession of a flipper, sale of a flipper, and “use, purchase, manufacture or sale” of one. Punishments range from the equivalent of a traffic ticket to a Class A misdemeanor – a year in jail!
Humor aside, the Legislature, as usual, made some significant changes to the criminal laws of the state, some of which are likely to impact our community. With the construction (and destruction) starting on Lamar Street, drivers would be wise to remember that a new protection has been added for TxDot workers. While we have been moving over or slowing down for law enforcement and emergency personnel for the last several years, the same protection has now been added to workers on the roadways. In other words, drivers are to move over if possible or slow to at least 20 miles per hour under the posted speed limit – or face a ticket.
Sadly, it has become common for people to drive off after being involved in an accident. Whether they wish to sober up before confronting law enforcement or simply do not wish to wait around, the Legislature has presumed an intent to avoid accepting responsibility. Should there be a serious injury or death as a result of the accident, the departing driver will face a felony. In addition, if it is “reasonably likely” that there will be injury or death, the other driver is required to determine if aid is needed and to take steps to obtain it.
Many of us have a variety of Salvia growing in our gardens and yards. It is very hardy, and drought tolerant. Commonly known as sage, there is a variety which is known as “Diviners’ Sage” which is now illegal unless growing naturally and unharvested. This is not the “Texas Sage” or “Purple Sage” that many use to predict rain. It is a lower growing plant with a cone shaped flower, lavender at the base and white at the tip. Because of its other properties, it is considered a controlled substance in the same penalty group as Valium, Hydrocodone, and Xanax.
It seems to always take a little while for drivers to become accustomed to the presence of school busses on the roads after a summer without them. And – even when used to them again – there is always the driver in too big a hurry to wait for the driver to turn off the flashers or pull in the stop sign before going around. In the past, this has simply been yet another traffic ticket. Apparently that was not making enough of an impact; fines for the first offense are now a minimum of $500 with a top of $1500; the second offense in five years starts with a find of $1000 and can go as high as $2000.
Motorcyclists came in for some attention from the law makers as well. It is now a citable offense to have a passenger on a cycle if there are not footrests and handholds for the passenger.
Persons who make a false report of an emergency (such as a bomb threat) involving an institution of higher learning, i.e., a college, are now facing felony prosecution. The way that this is written, the communication could be to law enforcement, the media, or any means of “initiating, communicating or circulating the false report. Arguably, that could include passing on an unsubstantiated rumor of such an event.
In the “miscellaneous laws that will never touch the majority of us” category is the requirement that computer repair persons who discover child porn on a computer are now required to report their find to law enforcement (or face prosecution). Persons performing “device maintenance services” without a license will be looking at class B misdemeanors – as will those who employ them. This is in the Agriculture Code…which makes one wonder about the type of device! Illegal use of an “unmanned aircraft” (drone?) to capture an image is an offense. Putting more than one person in a cemetery plot (or removing remains without authority) is now a felony. Protective orders for family violence are now to include the family pet, and last but not least, habitual violators of traffic rules who drive on toll roads are subject to yet another citation! Persons under the age of 18 are banned from tanning beds, but alcohol ads are allowed on public transportation. For the first time since 1959, a true switchblade knife, that is, one that has a button or switch, not that opens by centrifugal force, is legal as long as it complies with the rest of the weapons laws.
It just wouldn’t be a legislative session if they didn’t add a few more crimes to the list, and create felonies out of the misdemeanors we have. All I can say is that I’m very thankful the majority of the populace is law abiding!
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .