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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

A Texas Senate committee voted Monday to send the House’s open carry bill to the Senate floor for consideration.

HB 910, which Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) authored, would allow licensed gun owners to openly carry handguns in belt or shoulder holsters. Senators reviewed the measure, which passed in the House in mid-April, in the State Affairs committee Monday. 

“I think everyone that is tackling these issues wants to work against violence. Sometimes we see these things in very different ways,” said Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who laid out Phillip’s bill Monday.

Estes presented the bill with a few adjustments to the House version, including the removal of a controversial amendment by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) that would prevent officers from asking open carriers if they have a handgun license.

Later down the line, lawmakers may attempt to attach “campus carry” to HB 910, according to multiple reports. Several testimonies at the hearing brought up the possible addition.

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), author of the House campus carry bill,  proposed a similar amendment when HB 910 was heard before the full House last month, but the measure was ultimately withdrawn.

Campus carry would allow licensed handgun owners over the age of 21 to bring their guns on campus grounds and in university buildings. Certain buildings, such as residence halls, K-12 schools and on-campus hospitals, would be exempt from the policy. Additionally, private institutions could opt out of campus carry.

Middle Eastern studies senior Jordan Pahl, along with other UT students, attended the hearing to testify against open carry and a potential campus carry amendment. Pahl said most University officials and students oppose campus carry, including UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. and UT System Chancellor William McRaven.

“Students and stakeholders will continue to oppose this legislation,” Pahl said. “It doesn’t contribute to the academic atmosphere of universities, and it does not make our campuses safer. We deserve a voice in what happens to our campuses and communities.”

Later during the hearing, Estes added that while most university officials oppose the bill, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp is in favor of the measure. Estes did not confirm that campus carry would be added as an amendment to the bill.

“There seems to be some concern that these bills will be combined,” Estes said. “I’m not saying they will or they won't.”

Troy Gay, Austin Police Department assistant chief, testified at the hearing on behalf of APD. He said the department believes that while open carry may be better suited in rural areas, it should not be implemented in cities.

“In highly populated areas open carry may cause unnecessary alarm due to our citizens and confusion to law enforcement officers during chaotic situations,” Gay said.

This discussion of open carry follows Sunday’s motorcycle gang shoot out at a Twin Peaks in Waco, where nine people were killed and 18 were injured. The shootout was used as an argument against open carry at the hearing.

Troy said the presence of openly carried guns in similar situations could worsen them. State Affairs Chairwoman Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) said open carry and Sunday’s incident are not related.  

"This bill does not have anything to do with what went on [Sunday,]” Huffman said.

The senate has passed its own versions of campus and open carry this legislative session. For HB 910 to become law, the Senate must pass the bill and the House must approve amendments made in Senate.

The bill must also obtain Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. According to multiple sources, Abbott plans to sign legislation related to both open and campus carry.   

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, the State House's Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 5-2 to fully legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Yeah, you read that right. In doing so, they became the first subset of a legislative body in the United States to back the legalization of pot. Four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug, but all have done so by direct referendum and not through the legislature.

No such exercise in direct democracy exists in Texas; the legislature has a hand in all statutes and constitutional revisions, meaning they are the ones who must get involved if Texans ever want to see pot legalized. And while this particular bill, HB 2165 by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, faces nearly impossible odds to final passage, its limited success in the legislative process should serve as a positive harbinger of the issue's near future.

Simpson, a conservative Republican from behind the Pine Curtain, is no token moderate holdover in his party. He once attempted to overthrow House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, largely seen as too moderate by the rightward periphery of the chamber, by briefly running against him. This is a man who once filed legislation to prosecute TSA Agents for engaging in pat-downs at the airport.

But on pot, for whatever reason, he takes a libertarian point of view.

"Everything that God made is good, even marijuana," Simpson said in March, when he unveiled his bill, which simply eliminates any penalties and references to marijuana in the penal code. "The conservative thought is that government doesn't need to fix something that God made good."

Simpson's reasoning might be, well, unorthodox, but his end-goal is shared by more and more Texans. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling alleged that 58 percent of Texans back the full legalization of marijuana. Simpson's bill, combined with the support of Democrats and a moderate Republican (Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi), garnered more than two-to-one approval within the panel.

The Legislature is also considering other, sometimes duplicative, proposals regarding marijuana laws. HB 507, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would decriminalize possession of marijuana. It was also recently passed by the committee in question.

Simpson and Moody's respective bills, however, stand little chance of actually becoming law. The whole house will likely not vote on the measures, nor will they come up in the senate and Gov. Greg Abbott would almost certainly veto both measures should they come across his desk.

"I don't think decriminalizing marijuana is going to happen this session," Abbott said to reporters last month. "I will see Texas continuing to lead the way of diverting away from activity that involves drug use and helping people lead more productive lives."

Still, some progress could likely be made. SB 339, by state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, would provide for some forms of medical marijuana. It has already passed the senate by huge bipartisan margins and is well on its way to passing the house. It's unclear if Abbott will veto it.

If and when Texas does end its asinine modern-day prohibition, it will be because of a bipartisan coalition of strange bedfellows. Democrats, moderate Republicans and ultra-conservative Tea Party representatives with certain libertarian tendencies will have to come together to do what is right. It's in the state's best interest to stop prosecuting people for smoking a plant with no proven harmful effects, wasting millions upon millions of dollars in the process. Thankfully, we now have Simpson, an unlikely champion, leading the cause.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.

In 2011, Texas implemented legislation that required a registered citizen to bring one of seven forms of photo ID to the polls in order to vote. It is estimated that this requirement could prevent 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting because they lack an acceptable form of ID.

While photo ID requirements look like they’re here to stay, one state representative is working to help ease the burden it places on students. House Bill 733, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would make voting more accessible for UT students by allowing them to use a school ID or a Veteran Health Identification Card at the voting booth.  

The current forms of photo ID that are accepted are often inconvenient or expensive for students, especially for out-of-state students who don’t have a Texas driver’s license.

Current law would require them to go to the Department of Public Safety in order to get a state-issued ID to vote. While they can be issued an election identification certificate there free of charge, it can be difficult for students without a car to get to the DPS, as the closest driver’s license office is nearly four miles from campus.

Students also have the option to get a passport card in West Campus, but it will cost them $55 — too high a price to exercise a constitutional right. Short of getting a concealed handgun license, joining the military or applying for a citizenship certificate (if they are American citizens who were born overseas), students are suddenly out of options for being able to vote if they can’t afford these options or didn’t bring the necessary paperwork with them to college.

In contrast, if HB 733 became law, UT students would be able to use their student ID issued by the University. For out-of-state students, this would allow them to use a non-Texas license to obtain a student ID. Instead of requiring a trip to the DPS, they could go to the Flawn Academic Center on campus. HB 733 would also make Veteran Health Identification Cards an acceptable form of ID, making voting even easier for over 1,000 student veterans at UT.

While many supporters of having strict photo ID requirements would argue that this opens up the possibility of voter fraud by those ineligible to vote, this is simply not the case.

Individuals must still comply with eligibility requirements, such as being a citizen when they register to vote in Texas, and this information is subsequently verified. Since 2000, only two people in the state of Texas have been convicted of in-person voter impersonation, which voter ID is supposedly intended to address.

This lack of evidence that voter fraud is occurring anywhere near a significant amount would suggest that the procedures previously in place were already adequate. However, in order to address the two cases of voter fraud that could have been prevented by a photo ID, hundreds of thousands of Texans could now be lacking the identification necessary to vote.

Many of these Texans are specifically out-of-state students, who would benefit from Israel’s bill. When students move to Austin, they become a part of our community and they deserve the right to vote here. By making it exceedingly difficult for students to vote where they live, the current voter ID laws deny them this right and prevent them from becoming civically engaged. If we want students to vote and have a voice in issues affecting them, we must first make sure they have the ability to vote.

HB 733 doesn’t come close to solving all of the issues that come with photo ID requirements. It still creates an effective poll tax and hundreds of thousands of Texans will still lack access to an acceptable ID. However, it is a commendable effort to amend the Legislature’s previous decisions. By expanding the types of ID accepted, HB 733 specifically makes voting more accessible for all students.

Alcantara is a Plan II sophomore from Houston. She is the communications director for University Democrats.

Stephanie Hamborsky, Plan II and biology junior, handwrites a letter to her local representative in support of a bill during a Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) meeting Wednesday. SSDP members have started a handwritten letter campaign to support HB 507 which would decriminalize the possession of marijuana under one ounce.
Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are contacting their state representatives through a letter campaign in support of four bills up for debate during this legislative session. The students are focusing primarily on HB 507, which calls for the decriminalization of marijuana under one ounce.   

Letter-writing participants Francesca Brighty, geography sophomore, and Kerry Greathouse, biology sophomore, said SSDP has increased efforts to promote what members believe are sensible drug policy on campus this semester. 

The students have written letters at their past two meetings and plan to follow the Legislature’s decision on the bills until the session ends June 1. 

“We’re putting most of our efforts to the 507 decriminalization bill because it’s pretty easy to get behind for a lot of people,” Greathouse said.

Greathouse said writing was a powerful reminder that representatives work for the public and need to know what their constituents think.

“We’re about to flood them with handwritten letters they normally never receive,” Greathouse said. “They get tons and tons of emails, but I think handwritten letters — they’re unique and more impactful.” 

Jamie Spencer, executive director of Texas’ National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he believes when legislators receive a handwritten note, it counts 10 times as much as an email or phone call. He said one written letter represents a larger number of people behind the letter-writer, who agree with the sentiment expressed and just haven’t reached out.

“They take handwritten letters more seriously because they believe it reflects a greater commitment on the part of the letter writer,” Spencer said. 

Brighty said handwritten letters add a personal touch and allow students to share their stories with representatives. She wrote a letter to support a bill that would legalize medical marijuana because her father, who lives in California, has benefited after using the drug to treat multiple sclerosis. She said representatives should hear from UT’s student body on pivotal social issues. 

“I have seen it help my dad in all these ways, and I feel like that’s what they want to hear,” Brighty said. “We’re not under any false ideas that we’re gonna be changing laws tomorrow, but whatever you can do minimally makes a difference.” 

SSDP’s 10 active members constantly look to recruit more students. Brighty said SSDP wants to start a dialogue on UT’s campus about drug reform and teach people to look at drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.

“When people think of [SSDP], they think, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of people who love drugs,’ or ‘stoners,’” Brighty said. “But having education can save your life or help your friend.” 

Brighty said campus and state policies surrounding marijuana affect all students, whether or not those students realize it. She said teaching students about legal ramifications associated with certain drugs helps them make educated decisions and helps to prevent future arrests. 

Spencer said students involved in SSDP believe their work is worth any stigma that is attached. 

“If a student were able to put on their résumé ‘I was a leader with SSDP,’ they are actually going to open more doors by having the cojones to actually care about something and go out there and get it accomplished,” Spencer said. 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The open carry of handguns state-wide is one step closer to being legal.

The Texas House gave initial approval to its version of the open carry bill, HB 910, on Friday. The Texas Senate approved its version of the bill in March. 

HB 910 would allow licensed handgun carriers to openly carry their guns in a holster. The open carry of long guns and rifles is already legal in the state. Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), primary author of the bill, said he thinks the bill will expand Texans’ rights under the Second Amendment. 

“This bill goes too far for some and not far enough for others, but I think its a good start to show that we as Texans can be respectful and still protect ourselves,” Phillips said.

Representatives were set to debate the bill Tuesday, but Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) pointed out a technical error that postponed discussion. The error was resolved the same day.

Martinez Fischer and Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) brought up points of order Friday, but the points were overruled. One of Martinez Fischer’s points was in response to an amendment Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) filed that would allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses.

“This amendment has to do with what a licensed holder may or may not do,” Fletcher said. “This is the campus protection amendment to campus carry and is acceptable to the author.”

Fletcher, who also authored the House’s campus carry bill, HB 937, ultimately withdrew the measure. Representatives are set to debate campus carry at a later date.

Two of the 18 proposed amendments to the bill were approved. One amendment rewords the phrase “nursing home” to “nursing facility” when referring to facilities where open carry is not allowed.

The other amendment lightens the penalty for openly carrying a gun in a location with the proper signage displayed to ban to prevent open carry. The penalty for disobeying the signage would change from a class A misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of up to $200.

Additional reporting by Jackie Wang.

Students hold up signs in front of the Capitol in support of the original Texas DREAM act which was approved in 2001 and is at risk of removal this session. The bill gives undocumented students who meet certain requirements, including having lived in-state for at least three years and graduated from a Texas high school, in-state tuition at public higher education institutions.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Authors of the original Texas Dream Act, HB 1403, gathered at the Capitol on Monday to advocate for the policy — originally passed in 2001.

The bill, which is at risk of removal this session, gives undocumented students who meet certain requirements, including having lived in-state for at least three years and graduated from a Texas high school, in-state tuition at public higher education institutions. The measure first passed unanimously in 2001 with bipartisan support.

A bill proposed this session by Sen. Donna Campbell (RNew Braunfels), SB 1819, would repeal the original measure. Last week, a Senate subcommittee recommended the bill for passage in the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee after a public hearing that went well into the night. On Monday, the bill passed out of the Senate committee.

Three of HB 1403’s original authors attended the hearing to support the policy’s continuance, including the primary author of the bill and former Rep Rick Noriega (D-Houston).

At the rally, Noriega said it is unfortunate that lawmakers are working to repeal the bill, and people should be reminded why the Texas DREAM Act was enacted 14 years ago.

“We are standing here to … remind ourselves and educate folks on why we did this in the first place: because it was good public policy, because it was good for the state of Texas, because it was the morally right thing to do,” Noriega said.

Former State Representative Carl Isett (R-Lubbock), a co-author of HB 1403, said in-state tuition for undocumented students should be a policy based on principle rather than partisanship.

“It was then keeping with my idea that we should be a community or a state that gives opportunities to people to be successful,” Isett said.

Some of the students who testified at last week’s hearing attended the rally Monday.

Lizeth Urdiales, ethnic studies junior, spoke at the rally about her experiences growing up in Texas as an undocumented student and the opportunities HB 1403 granted her.

“I didn’t know HB 1403 existed until I was in the tenth grade, and that was amazing for me because I finally knew I had an opportunity to go to college — that the straight A’s I had in high school weren’t for nothing,” Urdiales said. “It led me to go to The University of Texas on a full ride scholarship.”

Cynthia Ramirez, finance and health promotion senior, said she wants legislators to know that she thinks keeping in-state tuition for undocumented students will benefit the state.

“I think we’ve really heard today that the common sense, logical thing to do that’s really best for the economy and is best for Texas families and our society in general is to keep HB 1403.

One week ago, the Legislature’s Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Subcommittee heard three bills that propose to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in criminal cases from from 17 to 18. Though the bills propose what appears to be a minor change, the debate over HB 53, 303 and 1205 is anything but a non-issue. Should the bills pass, they will herald a promising new day in Texas with the abolition of a nonsense law and the end to an institutional failure of Texas youth.

Texas is one of only nine states that try 17-year-olds as adults. The argument for doing so is that if they are able to make decisions like adults, such as whether or not to commit a crime, they should face adult consequences. 

Yet the issue is not as black-and-white as this rationale suggests. In fact, most of the crimes committed by 17-year-olds don’t seem to be “adult” crimes at all: According to a recent study by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the crimes of 17-year-olds are much more similar in nature to those of 16-year-olds than they are to the acts of 18-year-old criminals. Many of the youths that the state prosecutes as adults literally committed the crimes of children. And as we all know, children make mistakes.

Also, in an interim report released by the committee, it was found that 44 percent of the crimes committed by 17-year-olds were larceny, the possession of marijuana or certain alcohol-related crimes; in other words, nonviolent crime. A University of Texas study found that if the state changed the age of juvenile jurisdiction, 72.5 percent of 17-year-olds arrested would be misdemeanants and 89.9 percent of the crimes could be resolved with non-residential probation. When placed in a greater scope, the difference in treatment between juvenile court and adult court is staggering. These nonviolent, minor offenses are exactly the kind of harmless trouble I believe many would expect from teenagers, yet the state prosecutes these misdemeanants in adult courts. 

Unfortunately, in some 17-year-olds’ cases, being tried as an adult for the aforementioned offenses eliminates the possibility of having the charge expunged from their record at the age of 21. For minors, this is possible after the completion of an alcohol education course or community service. There is no doubt that this will negatively impact the success of the minor’s college application process or job search — in short, any attempt to better themselves. But this is the way the law stands now, and we must call it as it is: an institutional failure.

The most disturbing shade of this issue is that the state may be imprisoning Texas youths in state prisons partially for financial benefit. According to the subcommittee report, it costs $50.04 per day to incarcerate a person at a state prison and $366.88 per day to incarcerate someone at a juvenile detention center. As representatives from the Texas Probation Association said as they testified before the subcommittee,  the financial aspect of this issue cannot be overlooked; should HB 53, 303 and 1205 pass, the date of implementation for the transfer of 17-year-olds from state prisons to juvenile institutions will likely have to be delayed due to greater detention costs to the state.

Those who have strayed at 17 belong in juvenile correctional facilities, not a state prison. The committee’s interim report stated that reassigning 17-year-olds to the juvenile criminal system would have more favorable results. The trial and imprisonment of 17-year-olds as adults has concrete disadvantages: In state prisons, 17-year-olds are unable to continue their education; they are unable to receive mental health counseling that the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice found 70 percent of imprisoned 17-year-olds need; and they are ineligible for the state’s Substance Abuse Felony Punishment program or Intermediate Sanction Facility beds. All of these problems would be resolved if 17-year-olds were placed in juvenile correction facilities instead. It could not be clearer that prison is not comparable to rehabilitation.

What we should be doing is empowering the youths who commit criminal activity to be treated as youths, rehabilitated and reintroduced into a society where they are empowered to succeed. Seventeen-year-olds stand at a critical point in their life, on a threshold between childhood and adulthood, where society expects them to live as contributors to society. It is illogical enough that the state is currently trying 17-year-olds with the full penalties of adulthood at such a tender age and for mostly misdemeanors.

We cannot undo the failures of others, but we can make sure our state does not continue to fail our youths. Adolescent imprisonment is a disservice to Texas youths and a grave condemnation that will alter the course of their lives — all for a mistake they made when they were 17.

Smith is a history and humanities junior from Austin. Follow Smith on Twitter @claireseysmith.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas House of Representatives started its discussion Tuesday of an approximately $210 billion budget.

At print time, the discussion over HB 1, which lays out the House’s proposed state budget, was over eight hours long, and legislators had discussed roughly 100 of the more than 350 filed amendments. The House had not yet reached a discussion on article three, containing higher education budget information.

Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), appropriations chair, said he and the subcommittee chairs reviewed every amendment in preparation for the floor discussion.

“There are amendments, obviously, that we will oppose, and we will state why we oppose them [or] move to table,” Otto said. “There are amendments here we will accept. There are amendments here where we will tell members we’re going to let the will of the House speak.”

At the bill’s second reading, legislators discussed public education, border security, the wage gap and abstinence education, among other topics.

The discussion started with debate over a public education amendment that Otto filed. The amendment, which ultimately passed, would give public schools $800 million in funding, contingent on the passage of HB 1759.

HB 1759 would disperse state funding for public school maintenance, operations and debt.

Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) filed an amendment, which did not pass, to study and report data on the gender wage gap in Texas.

“Women in Texas continue to face wage inequality,” González said. “Don’t you believe that your daughters, your wives, your grandchildren should all be paid equally?”

According to journalism assistant professor Mary Bock, the gender pay gap is a result of factors such as women working fewer hours to care for children, or traditionally female jobs paying less than traditionally male jobs.

“It is such a complicated issue, that a study might help us get a handle on what’s going on in Texas specifically,” Bock said. 

González filed another amendment, which would increase funding for colonias, housing communities generally located on the border, by about $345,000. The funds would be moved from the Department of Public Safety budget, which receives more than $565 million in the current proposal, an almost $94 million increase form the current budget. This amendment also failed.

About seven hours into the reading, legislators began a discussion on abstinence funding in the state. Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) proposed an amendment that would transfer $2.5 million from funds dedicated to HIV and STD prevention to an abstinence education program. At the reading, Spitzer said abstinence is the only way to guarantee safe sex and HIV prevention.

The conversation got personal when Spitzer told his fellow representatives he was abstinent until marriage.

“[My parents] established that in me, and I hope to establish that in other children, so they can do the same thing,” Spitzer said.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington), who opposed the bill, said it was a mistake to take money from funds working to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

“I think abstinence is a valid program, but money to STD and HIV are equally valid as well,” Turner said.

The amendment passed 97–47.

Campus carry bill sent to House floor for review

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee approved its campus carry bill Tuesday for review on the House floor.  

HB 937 would allow licensed hand gun carriers to carry concealed handguns on campus grounds and buildings. Certain facilities, such as hospitals, pre-schools and grade schools, sports events and residence halls, would be exempt from the policy.

The Senate passed its campus carry bill earlier this month, which is also set to be heard in the House. The House version of the bill adopted amendments passed on the Senate version, including measures preventing open carry on college campuses.

On March 19, the bill was first heard in committee and left pending. At the hearing, UT students and faculty, including Student Government Vice-President elect Rohit Mandalapu, spoke in opposition of the bill.

“All of these people are against concealed carry on campus, and we ask why this decision is being made here in this room instead of at the institutions themselves, when we’re the ones being affected by this,” Mandalapu said at the hearing.

The house has not yet announced a second reading date for HB 937.  

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

The House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a statewide ban on texting while driving.

HB 80 was approved with a 102–40 vote. The bill would ban text-based communication while driving in the state. If the ban passes, Texas would be the joining 45 other states that have already implemented some form of a texting ban.

“I think that we need a flat policy across the state that tells where we are,” Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) said in an interview with The Daily Texan. “A lot of people who go to different towns don’t know what the regulations are. If you have one bill that regulates across the state, people will know what the law is and what to abide by.”

Exceptions to the bill include typing to make a phone call, using GPS systems and replying to emergency texts, among other situations.

“You’ve got to be realistic and there are certain situations, like emergency situations, where you’ve got to give people the flexibility,” Craddick said.

At the bill’s second reading, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) said he is concerned about how a statewide texting ban would be enforced. He said he thinks officers would have a difficult time identifying when a person is texting on their phone rather than holding it or performing another action, such as making a call.

Dutton said the bill creates potential for probable cause and filed an amendment that would prevent officers from pulling over a person solely based on the belief that the individual is texting. The amendment ultimately failed in a 73–66 vote.

“Just because I hold my cell phone in my hand, doesn’t suggest that I am texting,” Craddick said.

In total, six amendments out of 14 were passed. The amendments passed included increased signage, including state entrance signs, highway rest stops and state highway maps, as well as the ability to text when stopped.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, about 40 cities have banned texting while driving in some form, with Austin being the first in 2009. In January 2015, Austin implemented a hands-free ordinance that prohibits the use of any handheld device while driving.

Austin Police Department Lt. Robert Richman said he thinks the texting ban could be implemented statewide and increase driver safety, but the state could also look into adopting a hands-free ordinance. He said APD experienced challenges with the texting ban before Austin’s switch to a hands-free ordinance.

“I think it’s very possible that it can be implemented on a statewide scale,” Richman said. “When we first started the texting ban, the texting ban had some limitations when it came to enforcement. Enforcement was very, very difficult, almost impossible, for us to do.”

The City’s ordinance is not enforced on campus, but the state’s would be if it were to pass, according to Cindy Posey, UTPD spokeswoman.

“State law enforcement authorities generally do not enforce city ordinances,” Posey said in an email. “However, UTPD enforces any state law related to distracted driving. If the state were to pass a law specifically prohibiting texting while driving, then yes, UTPD would enforce.” 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) has an identical bill filed in the Senate. HB 80 is scheduled for a third reading in the House on Thursday, when it may receive final approval and be sent to the Senate.