Published 4:08 pm Friday, March 31, 2017

High school students would receive instruction on what is expected of them when interacting with police officers under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. Bill author and Dallas Senator Royce West says that there is a lot of confusion about how a person is supposed to act when they get pulled over by the police. To illustrate this, he said he asked people a hypothetical question: say you or your wife are driving on a dark road at night when what appear to be police lights come on behind you. What should you do? “Frankly the answers were all over the place,” he said. “Some said they would stop, some said they would go to the nearest location that was well-lit, others said they would go to the nearest well-lit location with people.”   His legislation seeks to end this confusion.

His bill, SB 30, would have the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Licensing and Regulation and the Texas Education Agency develop uniform curriculum to clearly spell out what a person should do when they get pulled over or otherwise stopped by police officers. This curriculum would be taught as a module in high school, in drivers education courses, and defensive driving courses. An amendment added by co-author and Houston Senator John Whitmire would allow local boards of education and police departments to tailor their curriculum based on local needs and demographics. “What you need to teach students in Houston or Dallas, major urban areas, would be different from rural areas,” he said.   Current and future police officers would also be trained on citizen interactions based on this curriculum.

Also Wednesday, the Senate tentatively approved a measure aimed at reducing state budget growth from year to year.   Growth in state spending is limited by two different caps. One is the “pay-as-you-go” limit, which requires that budget writers not appropriate more than the state collects in revenue, laid out each biennium by the Comptroller’s revenue estimate. The second is a statutory cap that prohibits the rate of budget growth from exceeding economic growth, as determined by the rate of personal income growth. The measure that passed the first vote Wednesday would change that metric to population growth adjusted by the rate of inflation. This will slow state budget growth, says author and North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock. “It is the intention of the bill to tighten the state’s spending limit,” he said.

Finally, the Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would begin phasing out the use of traffic enforcement cameras, commonly called red light cameras, in the state. These are devices that automatically record the image of the license plate on cars that run red lights, resulting in a citation being issued to the registered owner of the vehicle. That it goes straight to the registered owner raises constitutional issues related to due process and facing one’s accuser in court, says author and Edgewood Senator Bob Hall. Hall also cited studies that show that these cameras don’t improve public safety and in some cases actually increase the number of accidents at intersections. “If a municipality has as its objective increased public safety, then there are many non-punitive, simple, and inexpensive measures available to actually make the traffic flow environment safer for motorists and pedestrians, without trampling constitutional rights,” he said.

His bill, SB 88, would prohibit cities from implementing or extending contracts for red light camera third-party vendors or operating their own. Existing programs would be permitted to operate through the end of the existing contract. It would also prohibit the issuance of citations based on photographic evidence obtained from cameras. The measure now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Thursday, March 30 at 11 a.m.