March 31, 2009

From the Desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Part Two: Bills Filed for the 81st Legislative Session

This article is the second part of a three part series detailing the bills I filed for the 81st legislative session. In this article I will discuss some of the public safety and criminal justice bills filed in response to local constituents and at the request of the Dallas District Attorney’s office and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

The Booster Seat Bill

In the Fall of 2007, I did an externship at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas to view their emergency and trauma centers. It was then I learned of a dangerous flaw in current state law concerning the use child safety seats, often referred to as booster seats. Car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death to children. In car crashes, children ages 4 to 8 restrained by an adult seat belt are likely to suffer severe head, spinal cord and internal organ injuries. Booster seats reduce the risk of these injuries by 59%. Texas has one of the weakest laws in the country and most children outgrow the current requirement of 36” before their 4th birthday. However, the national standard and what most experts recommend is that children be restrained until they are 4’9” or until their 8th birthday. Texas is one of only six states which does not have this requirement in law.

I filed House Bill (HB) 528 to correct this flaw. There is an educational phase-in period and violations will not be handed out until September 2010. Violations come with a $25 fine that then goes back into a child safety seat program focused on education and providing seats to low income families. This bill was voted out of the Criminal Jurisprudence committee and will hopefully soon make it to the House floor for a vote.

“Eric’s Law”

I am sure many of you heard about an accident at White Rock Lake last year where an uninsured driver with a suspended driver’s license hit three runners after a local marathon. While all three pedestrians spent time in the hospital with serious injuries and are still recovering, the driver was only given two citations and to this day has not paid her fines. It is hard to believe that someone could do that much physical and emotional damage and not pay a cent.

Shortly thereafter I visited with my neighbor who was a victim of the accident. I did some research in the Penal Code, found the misdemeanors to be inadequate, and decided to file a bill that would try and bring some justice to future victims of similar crimes. HB 2012 would make it a third degree felony if a person drove without a valid license, without valid insurance, and caused or was at fault in an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury or death. If this bill passes, it will be known as “Eric’s Law,” in honor of my neighbor and the two other victims who are still struggling everyday. The proposed legislation is currently in the Transportation Committee waiting to be scheduled for a public hearing.

DNA Legislation

Several months ago, I met with the Dallas District Attorney’s office to discuss possible legislation for the 81st session. In 1996, with the certainty brought about by DNA testing, the legislature removed the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in which a suspect’s DNA was found. However, many who were victimized before 1996 never saw justice or got closure because the statute of limitations had expired on their rape cases. With the advancements in DNA, it is now possible for police to link certain cold cases from prior to 1996 to DNA already on file. The Dallas Police Department has already been using advanced science and DNA to solve these crimes; however, the DA’s office requested legislation that would note that link in a person’s criminal history.

I filed HB 2932 that will require a new type of notation in pre-existing criminal histories for clear connections between DNA evidence from older, unsolved sexual assaults and current samples on file with the Department of Public Safety. My hope is that this legislation gives both closure and justice to those rape victims whose cold cases can no longer be prosecuted.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding the bills I have filed for the 81st legislative session. Keep in mind that these are the bills as introduced and that details are subject to change as part of the legislative process. Please email my office at with the subject line 81st Legislative Session Bills.

As always, please feel free to contact my office at (214) 370-8305 with any questions regarding these or other state issues. I look forward to hearing from you.