The 81st Texas Legislature that began in January ended with an exhausting five-day filibuster of the voter identification bill, a legislative logjam of other major legislation left for debate until late in the session, a frantic last ditch attempt to save much of that legislation, and a final-day meltdown in the Senate. The 2009 session is defined more by what did not pass than by what did pass. Texans and humorists, alike, may be sighing with relief that the legislators went home before they could do anymore damage!

As Will Rogers mused, The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets; and, This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.

Laws of Interest to the Real World:

Seat Belts. Children must now ride in booster seats until they reach age 8 or a height of 4 feet 9 inches. All occupants of a vehicle must now wear a safety belt, no matter the age or where they are seated.

Cell Phones While Driving. All drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone while passing through an active school zone unless they are using a hands-free device. Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using a cell phone at any time, with or without a hands-free device. Bus drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone when a minor is on the bus.

Teen Tanning. Minors younger than 16 ½ may no longer use a tanning bed in Texas, and minors between the ages of 16 ½ and 18 must have parental consent. Any surprise that the author of this bill has a teenage daughter?

Schools and Colleges. Top 10 percent Rule Changed. The University of Texas at Austin is now required to admit only 75 percent of each incoming class under the Top 10 Percent Rule, giving the school discretion in selecting the other 25 percent. High School Curriculum. Texas students will now have to take only one year of physical education and may take other electives other than the previously required health, speech, or technology classes.

Mandatory Warrantless Blood Tests. If an officer’s request to the operator of a motor vehicle or watercraft to submit to the taking of a blood specimen is refused and: (1) a third party was transferred for medical treatment; (2) the operator is under arrest for DWI with a child passenger under 15; or (3) the operator was previously convicted of DWI two or more times, then law enforcement can take a forced blood draw without a warrant. So, if you refuse to blow, you still may go!

Divorces and Children. If a respondent in a divorce proceeding has been convicted, received deferred adjudication or is under an emergency protective order as a result of a finding of family violence, the court may grant the divorce prior to the 60th day after filing.  If a child 12 years or older wishes to express a preference for a parent with whom to live, a written designation is no longer allowed; the child must do so to the court in chambers.

Bills that Failed. Some of the proposed legislation that failed to be approved: authorization for sobriety checkpoints, permitting concealed handguns on college campuses, legalizing casinos and slot machines, increased penalties for illegal cockfighting, securing a court order before dying to bar a person from contesting your will, and shooting feral hogs from helicopters. Darn the bad luck. That just makes bringing home the bacon a little bit tougher!

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck

Special thanks to the following contributors to the September 2009 Texas Bar Journal: Royce Poinsett’s “General Review,” Kristin Etter, David Gonzalez and Allen Place’s “Criminal Law,” Jack Marr and Warren Cole’s “Family Law,” and Bill Pargaman’s “Probate, Guardianship and Trust Law” updates.