A brave new world began in Texas September 1. On that day more than 900 new laws, the sum of the wisdom and acumen of the state legislature -- not to mention our governor -- took effect.
Most notable, of course, is the ban on open containers of alcohol in cars. In a state where you can buy two tallboys for a buck fifty at many gas stations, the law marks a major attempt to change local habits. The legislature seems to have ameliorated this attempt, however, by passing another bill, which eliminates the ban on selling liquor in bottles smaller than six ounces. You now can buy your booze in easily concealed containers as small as 1.6 ounces.
The booze-in-cars law is getting all the publicity, but as in every odd-numbered year, a whole raft of more obscure new laws are also taking effect. Texas will never be the same.
House Bill 1925, for instance, makes it illegal for anyone to carry a weapon to an execution. (Wouldn't want anyone to get hurt, we guess.) No firearms, knives or clubs (clubs?) are allowed "within 1,000 feet of a place of execution on a day that a sentence of death is to be imposed."
Leave the killing to the pros, boys. The law specifically states, however, that it's fine to carry such weapons within 1,000 feet of the killin' place as long as you just happen to be driving by on a public road.
If you are driving by and packing heat, just make sure you're not on your way to a bat hunt. Senate Bill 1194 makes it a misdemeanor offense to hunt bats. Unless, according to the law, "the bat is inside or on a building occupied by people." You also can't buy or sell "a bat or any part of a bat, dead or alive."
The bat lobby -- no doubt headquartered in Austin under the Congress Avenue bridge -- is apparently a strong one. But the BatPAC was not the only animal group to demonstrate its clout in the latest legislative session. Witness this: You have committed a Class C misdemeanor, buddy, if you take it upon yourself to taunt a police dog.
House Bill 280, which deals with what it calls "interference with police service animals," seems sadly vague when it comes to defining just what constitutes an illegal police-dog taunt. "You bitch!" might be a perfectly acceptable comment if the dog's a female, but who's to say when a witty bon mot about the entire species' poop-sniffing habits crosses the line into criminal activity? Courts no doubt will be wrestling with this for years.
Speaking of vague laws, they don't get much broader than House Bill 73. The law makes it a state-jail felony to photograph or videotape anyone without that person's consent "with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."
Geez. When's the last time you watched a college football game without seeing dozens of shots of good-looking female fans or cheerleaders? The law doesn't say anything about whether the photos or video show nudity or anything overtly sexual. If some couch potato watching a UT game sees a shot of a giggling blond enthusiastically giving the "Hook 'Em Horns" sign and says to himself, "I'd do her," the ABC network might just have the DPS breathing down its neck.
More legislation takes aim at great rural traditions that have helped make the more sparsely populated areas of this state so charming, not to mention sparsely populated.
It officially is a public nuisance to have an abandoned car, junked refrigerator or disused furniture within 300 feet of a public road, even if you live in an unincorporated area. Anyone who has cruised down a country road in Texas has seen a vast collection of ummm Folk Art that is far closer than a football-field length from the street. Are these bold, rusting statements -- these scathing indictments of the disposability of modern America's consumer culture -- now to be hidden from view?
Future generations, it seems, are to be deprived of such Art. We can only hope that those worldwide who ceaselessly push against the creative boundaries of the herdlike bourgeoisie will forever spit in contempt when the name of House Bill 2092 is mentioned.
(The complaints of at least some artists should be assuaged by House Bill 2061, which calls for "equitable representation in monuments" on state property. With a mandate calling for inclusion of "African slaves, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans, women in Texas history and Texans exemplifying military service and rural heritage," the law should be titled the Sculptors' Employment Act.)
Another great rural tradition under attack by a new law is the backwoods hobby of manufacturing methamphetamine. No longer content to merely outlaw the practice, the legislature has unleashed its most potent weapon against speed makers. Now they can be sued by product liability lawyers.
House Bill 2087 says anyone who makes speed can be sued if their product hurts or kills anyone, either by using it or as a result of the manufacturing process. So the next time you're complaining about the high cost of crank, you can blame all those OSHA inspectors out there writing up citations for not having the proper hard hats on site.
Perhaps the most ominous new law is House Bill 2908, which transfers to the office of the governor the Texas Strategic Military Planning Commission.
Residents of Louisiana and New Mexico may very well tremble at the thought, and listen closely to see if Governor Rick Perry begins peppering his speeches with references to lebensraum.
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One thing that won't trigger a war, though, is barber licenses. Senate Bill 660 declares -- in what appeaseniks will no doubt take as evidence of Herr Perry's peaceful intents -- that Texas will honor barber licenses from other states with standards "substantially equivalent" to ours. If you can cut a mullet that passes Ardmore, Oklahoma's standards, you're welcome to set up shop in Amarillo.
Photos of Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating getting off a plane with an umbrella and declaring that SB 660 means "peace in our time" are expected to stifle hawks in the Sooner State.
Meanwhile, unseen, the Strategic Military Planning Commission plots on. (Ostensibly, at least, to deal with issues between local governments and armed-forces bases in Texas.)
Wars, bats, police dogs and well- protected executioners -- all in all, it seems like a stunningly productive session for our proud Texas legislators. It's only a pity that we'll have to wait two more years to see what comes next.