Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Texas Senate Approves Bill That Would Allow Sobriety Check Points

The legislators in Texas are tackling a wide variety of issues during this session, dealing with topics ranging from education to immigration to the current economic crisis. Like every other year, some of the bills that are being considered garner a lot of attention and controversy. One example is the bill that was passed by the Texas Senate yesterday that would allow for sobriety checkpoints in our state for the first time in fifteen years. Right now, Texas is one of only eleven states that does not allow for such a guard against drunk driving. The question, however, is whether or not this new law would really address the problem it is meant to help.

The bill approved by the Senate would allow police officers to set up check points for four-hour periods on designated nights. However, federal highways and interstates, bridges, and roads that provide the only way in and out of a particular area would be exempted from the possibility of such a check point. Also, the law would not affect counties with a population of less than 250,000 people and cities that do not have at least 500,000 residents within its borders. These routes constitute a lot of roadway that cannot be checked by law enforcement for intoxicated drivers, including many of our college towns and vacation areas. Does this legislation serve its intended purpose if some of the areas with the most serious DWI problems cannot be monitored? One of the bill's supporters, state Senator John Carona (R-Dallas), believes that the law as written will save up to 300 lives a year. Does this justify the effort, or will the questions raised about the law's effectiveness prevent it from taking effect?

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP are always following the activity in Austin, because we know that the decisions made by our state legislators will affect our clients. If you are arrested for driving while under the influence, either due to your actions behind the wheel or at an eventual check point, our criminal defense attorneys can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office to discuss the charges you are facing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Texas Considers Legislation That Would Allow Guns on Campuses

We all remember the tragedy. Nearly two years ago, a lone gunman opened fire on his fellow students at Virginia Tech and thirty-two people were left dead in the wake of the massacre. Last year, the students at Northern Illinois experienced a similar tragedy that resulted in five deaths and eighteen people wounded. The question that has plagued campus leaders across the country since then has been, "How do we prevent such violence at our own schools?" Many colleges have instituted a system of sending text and email messages seconds after a threat is recognized. Other campuses are encouraging professors to monitor the behavior of their students more closely. One idea being discussed in several states, including Texas, is the lift on the ban of guns on college campuses.

The House version of this bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Joe Driver (R), is set for a public hearing today in front of the Public Safety Committee. Driver and other supporters of this legislation argue that this bill only supports the right of those who are already licensed to carry concealed weapons, which includes people at least twenty-years of age, pass a criminal background check, and complete a training course. Also, they believe that the presence of law-abiding students who are carrying guns will deter those who may be inclined to do harm.

The history of such legislation in other states does not bode well for Texas. Eighteen other states have considered permitting guns on campus since 2008, and every effort has failed. Those who hope that this trend continues include the University of Texas Student Government, the Graduate Student Assembly and the Faculty Council. All of the groups have passed resolutions against the campus gun bill.

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP are always following the activity in Austin so that we are ready to assist you with any changes to the law. Our criminal defense attorneys certainly will be aware of where and when you can carry your firearm so that you are able to fight any charges that you believe to be unjustified. If you have found yourself in such a situation, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Houston is Providing Easier Access to Voter Registration Forms

Allegations of voter fraud and disenfranchisement have almost become a required component of any election, particular since the lengthy battle over Florida's votes in 2000. Hopefully, a repeat of election results being contested all the way to the Supreme Court will not be needed anytime soon, but attorneys now descend on polling places at the slightest sniff of wrongdoing. To minimize the number of problems on election days, many cities and states have been making efforts to improve the voter registration system and give participants in our electoral process fewer reasons to complain. Harris County, which is home to the great city of Houston, is trying to make the registration paperwork as accessible to its residents as possible.

County Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez is working with organizations such as the Houston Apartment Association and the Texas Land Title Association to make sure that people receive voter forms amongst all of the other documents that one receives when moving into a new home. Major employers in the area, such as Continental Airlines and the Houston Independent School District, are also starting to include a voter registration form within the stack which already includes a W-4 form and the employee leave policy. Beyond providing one more way in which interested voters can receive the needed paperwork to register, Vasquez also hopes that this effort will spread out the processing of voter forms throughout the year. As it stands now, most new voters wait until the weeks right before an election to remember this task and the resulting chances for error in processing during the rush are high.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in the area of election law. If you believe that you are properly registered to vote in your district but you still were denied the right to participate in an election, please let us know. The election law lawyers in our Austin, Houston, and San Antonio offices can help.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Economy Forcing Houston Parents to Cut Costs in Child Care

One of the most important decisions that a parent makes is who will be given the charge of caring for her children while she is at work. What is the teacher to student ratio? How long has the facility been in operation? Do the workers know emergency first aid and child CPR? Are the caretakers certified, licensed, and bonded? Everyone wants to know that their children are safe and loved every moment of the time they are separated. However, the economic problems in our country have necessitated that some people cut corners even in the area of child care. More moms and dads are turning to unlicensed and unregulated day care centers or private homes as a way of saving money and, unfortunately, the consequences can be deadly.

Since January of this year, there have been four children in the Houston area who have died in centers that have not been licensed by the state. Three of the deaths have been of infants who were under the age of six months, one in the home of a woman who was watching eighteen young children. The fourth victim was a two-year-old whose tracheotomy tube was pulled out from her throat and whose caregiver had not checked on her in forty-five minutes.

Child care centers that are licensed by Texas Child Care Licensing, which is a division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, are required to meet a certain level of standards and are subject to regular inspections. All of these regulations, including first aid training, sanitation, and teacher backgrounds, make the running of such an establishment more expensive. In order to assist parents, there are scholarships and sliding scale payments available.

If you are a licensed day care facility and your credibility has been threatened due to charges made by a parent or a poor inspection rating, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. We have business litigation attorneys who are ready to assist you in keeping your good name. If you are an unlicensed child care provider and one of the young ones in your care has been injured or worse, you may need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. We also have licensing and board attorneys who can assist your facility with applying for licensing. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Musicians Take Over Austin for Annual SXSW Festival

New York can have Woodstock and its periodic reunions tucked away on an upstate farm. Nashville may promote the country music get together now known as the CMA Music Fest, formerly called Fan Fair, which takes place every hot Southern summer. However, there is simply no competition for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival that takes place here in Austin every spring. This year's gathering of musicians and artists of all backgrounds has convened in our state capitol and will continue through the end of the weekend. So, to all local residents (including those like me who have an office downtown) ... hold on, the traffic will soon resume to normal.

South by Southwest started in 1987 as purely a showcase for music and expanded to include film and interactive conferences in 1994. The four-day festival, which is spread over dozens of venues, features musicians from around the world and produces more revenue for Austin than any other special event. Last year, the festival brought in more than $110 million for the city. This year, music fans will find the opportunity to enjoy more than 1800 bands that have descended on our great city. While most of the acts that will be on stage via the hard work of their record labels or other sponsors are not necessarily household names, they will be known to the fans of indie music who count SXSW as a must on their yearly calendars.

The Austin and San Antonio attorneys of Bertolino LLP who practice entertainment law have the pleasure of working with many wonderful musicians on their record contracts, licensing agreements and record labels. If you discover your true calling as a recording artist while checking out the countless shows at SXSW this year, our Austin entertainment lawyers can help. We will work with you from day one to make sure that your musical integrity and vision is maintained through the corporate process of getting your voice heard. Please contact one of our entertainment attorneys in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today for more information.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Texas Considers Lifting Restrictions on Alcohol Laws to Raise Revenue

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently declared that he would not be accepting $555 million of the funds that are being offered by the federal government through its stimulus package. Specifically, he joins several other state executives in fighting the changes that would need to be made to state unemployment laws if the money was accepted. So, the state legislature is now looking for some other ways to improve the status of the coffers in Austin. One of the suggestions being proposed is the repeal of the state's Blue Laws, which ban the sale of hard liquor on Sundays and restrict the purchase of beer and wine until after noon on that day. The question is -- would this change really result in more funds for Texas government?

State Representative Ana Hernandez asserts that lifting the Blue Laws would result in an increase of $5-8 million in tax revenue. Voters who support the measure like the convenience of being able to purchase alcohol any day of the week. Also, they appreciate the fact that if the need to purchase their beer for the Texans or Cowboys game is overlooked on Saturday, they will not have to miss kickoff as they wait for 12:00pm to arrive on Sunday.

Opponents of the change believe that sales of alcohol will not increase, but simply be spread over seven days instead of six. And, owner of Spec's Liquor Warehouse has concern for the people who work for him. He says, "We don’t want to necessarily work another day. It’s not good for my employees. They need a day off.” Long gone are the days in which all retail was closed on Sundays to allow for a time of rest and reconnection with family. Will liquor stores soon join with the growing trend?

Texas is not alone in reconsidering its alcohol laws for the purpose of gaining desperately-needed revenue. Other states are also considering opening the doors of its liquor stores on Sundays or making wine available in more locations, such as grocery stores. With all indications showing that alcohol consumption rises during tough economic times, perhaps they are onto something.

At Bertolino LLP, we urge you to follow all laws regarding alcohol, from minimum age to purchase to staying away from your car if you have been drinking. If your activities involving alcohol have found you on the wrong side of the law, our criminal defense attorneys can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Photo IDs for Voters to Be Debated in Austin This Week

Residents of Austin can expect some serious fireworks in their city this week. There is no need to check your calendar ... it's not the Fourth of July yet. Instead, the State Senate is holding a hearing today concerning whether or not Texas should join the seven other states that require voters to present a photo ID in order to vote. The Texas House approved such a measure both in 2005 and 2007, but the bill died in the Senate because it did not have the support of two-thirds of the members that was required to bring the bill to the floor. With a recent change in the body's rules now mandating only a simple majority vote to consider the bill, the fight for photo IDs has been given new life.

Lawmakers who support the need for a photo ID at polling locations argue that the integrity of each ballot cast must be ensured. They point to the fact that photo IDs or an alternative such as a birth certificate are already required to complete the initial voter registration. Also, voters who are not able to produce a photo ID will still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted once identity is verified.

Those who are arguing against the measure believe that it is reminiscent of previous poll taxes and literacy tests, as the law would disproportionately affect members of minority groups and the elderly. These individuals are more likely to be without photo IDs. They also point to the fact that no overwhelming problem with voter fraud has been proven, with only twenty-two alleged cases occurring between August 2002 and January 2008.

With this issue splitting the two parties almost to a person and heated opinions on both sides, there are bound to be some strong arguments coming from the chambers of the Capitol this week. The outcome of the proposed legislation, particularly in the House, is still very much in question.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in the area of election law. If you believe your voting rights have been diminished in any way, the members of our law firm can help. And, we certainly will be following the progress of the voter photo ID bill so that we are prepared to assist you with any legal questions that arise. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let us know if you have experienced any problems at your voting location.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Houston Dentist Guilty of Videotaping Patients in Office Bathroom

There are certain images that you expect to be captured on film when you visit your dentist for a regular cleaning and check-up. We all know that the heavy adult bib and the large piece of plastic uncomfortably lodged in our mouth will result in some lovely x-rays of our teeth and alert us to any possible problems that require our dentist's attention. Perhaps if you have been a success story with your dentist's chosen system for whitening teeth, you may be asked to pose for some striking before and after shots. However, you never expect to have your private moments in the office restroom recorded for future visual review. If you were a patient of Dr. Byron Weinle, your expectation for a lack of video cameras in the bathroom may have been violated.

Dr. Weinle, a dentist in Houston, pleaded guilty yesterday to four counts of improper photography. This crime, a state felony, comes with a maximum sentence of two years behind bars and a $10,000 fine for each count. However, Weinle received a punishment of thirty days in jail, 250 hours of community service, and he will write letters of apology to each of his victims. I wonder how that delicate piece of correspondence will be composed. I imagine that, in this instance, there is not a Hallmark card for the occasion to which he can just add a short note and sign his name.

Have you been accused of setting up cameras to videotape clients in your office while they are in your restrooms, but you insist that the recording devices were just there to monitor a possible leak in the sink or maybe a rumor of a criminal who sneaks in a steals toilet paper after hours? If so, you will need a strong legal defense for your day in court. The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP are here to help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.