AUSTIN - Six hundred and fifty-four new state laws took effect on Sept. 1. The 80th Texas Legislature also passed 670 bills that became law immediately last spring. Another 22 bills will take effect on Jan. 1.

The subject matter of the laws effective Sept. 1 is wide-ranging.

Major among them are money issues affecting nearly everyone: the state’s 2008-2009 budget (House Bill 1) and school property tax reduction (HB 2).

The Texas Department of Public Safety drew up its own list of safety- related new laws and on Aug. 20 posted the list online at www.txdps.state.tx.us.

Here are a few traffic and criminal laws mentioned there:

HB 8, “Jessica’s Law,” imposes a 25-year minimum sentence for sexually violent offenses against children under 14; eliminates eligibility for parole for certain sex offenders; makes a second conviction of a sexually violent offense against a child under 14 a capital felony; mandates Global Positioning System monitoring for offenders committed under the sexually violent predator statutes; extends the statute of limitations for sexually violent offenses against children under 14 to 20 years past the victims’ 18th birthday; and clarifies that harboring a sex offender in violation of registration is an offense punishable by up to a third degree felony. SB 6 increases the penalty for sexually explicit online communication with a minor who is 14 to 16 years old from a state jail felony to a third degree felony and increases the penalty for

online sexual solicitation of a minor who is 14 to 16 years old from a third degree felony to a second degree felony.

SB 1315 requires the DPS to develop an alert system for missing

senior citizens similar to the Amber Alert Program for abducted children.

HB 323 requires all new buses purchased by a school district on or after Sept. 1, 2010, to be equipped with lap/shoulder seatbelts. All buses contracted for use by a school district on or after Sept. 1, 2011, must be equipped with lap/shoulder seatbelts. But, the Legislature first must appropriate funds to school districts to cover the cost. SB 1287 requires certain establishments that sell alcohol to post specific notification regarding the offense of human trafficking in both English and Spanish along with the number to the national human trafficking hotline. SB 378, known as the “Castle Doctrine,” removes the requirement that persons attempt to retreat before using deadly force to defend themselves. HB 1766 makes a state jail felony of the theft of wiring or cable that consists of at least 50 percent aluminum, bronze or copper and that has a value of less than $20,000. HB 1355, “Lillian’s Law,” requires all dog owners to properly secure their dogs on their property. A dog owner now can be held criminally responsible if the dog causes serious bodily injury or death at a location other than the owner’s property in an unprovoked attack during which the owner, by criminal negligence, failed to secure the dog. The law exempts certain professionals, including peace officers, who deal with dogs on a regular basis.

Court rules in challenge to pledge

A Dallas federal district court on Aug. 28 denied a North Texas couple’s attempt to prevent schoolchildren from reciting a revised Texas Pledge of Allegiance.

David Wallace Croft and his wife, Shannon, sought a preliminary injunction because the Texas Legislature, in the recently ended session, passed a law adding the words “one state under God” in the state pledge.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott commented on the ruling. In regards to precedent, Abbott said the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has held “patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty such as these” are consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

The voluntary, teacher-led recitation of the state pledge follows the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.

Abbott’s legal brief argues that instead of conflicting with the First Amendment, the state pledge reflects the protected freedom of religion.

On June 15, the wording of the pledge changed to this: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

Before the change, the pledge was worded, “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible.”