Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will Texas Soon Become Smoke Free?

You would be hard-pressed to find a person who would be willing to assert that smoking cigarettes is good for your health, at least no one who would be taken seriously. The surgeon general's warning that is found on every pack does not state, "The federal government recommends that you smoke five to seven cigarettes a day to better your quality of life." However, with the fact that smoking is bad for your health uniformly agreed upon, what exactly is the role of the U.S. government to deter the habit and prevent others from experiencing the second-hand side effects? Should its involvement extend into private businesses and public parks? Some legislators in Texas believe so.

Proposals currently in the committee stage, sponsored by Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) in the House and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) in the Senate, would ban smoking in Texas with some exceptions, including private residences, sections of nursing homes, and some clubs. Before reaching the full body for a vote, this measure must clear the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the House State Affairs Committee. The two elected officials who head these committees are not in a hurry to proceed with the necessary discussion, one due to a belief that focus should be kept on bills more likely to pass through the legislature and the other out of a dislike for the idea of a ban.

Supporters of the measure believe that such a ban is important to protect people from the dangers of second-hand smoke. Opponents argue that such a sweeping restriction would be a violation of personal liberty. What do you think? I invite your comments on this blog.

If the smoking ban eventually does take effect in Texas, businesses will be greatly affected. If you are a business owner, you will need to know that you are following the statute's details. Also, if you run an establishment that you believe merits an exception to the smoking ban, you will want legal assistance to advocate for your cause. The business law and litigation attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help you with both situations. Please remember to contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office if you find yourself in the middle of any legal problem.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NFL Draftees Will Need Strong Legal Representation

Last weekend marked an important annual event for football fans across this great country--the draft for the new crop of players to try their chances in the National Football League. There was not a great deal of drama surrounding who would be picked first, as that was correctly assumed to be Matthew Stafford out of Georgia. He will be the new quarterback for the Detroit Lions, a team that is hoping to improve on their winless 2008 season (how could they not?). The other high-profile quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was selected in a surprise trade to go to New York and take the helm of the Jets. On the big day, though, the state of Texas certainly was involved in some football transactions as well.

The Houston Texans selected Brian Cushing out of the University of South Carolina as their first-round draft choice. As a linebacker, Cushing hopes to add some strength to the defensive line of the Texans. The Dallas Cowboys waited until day two of the draft to jump into the action when they selected Jason Williams, an outside linebacker out of Western Illinois, in the third round. Those of us in Austin were watching to see where the draft-eligible members of the University of Texas Longhorns would end up. There were several outstanding UT athletes selected, including first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo, who was selected by the Washington Redskins.

All of these young men will be approaching attorneys, hopefully, to assist them as they maneuver through the contract negotiation process. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in the area of sports law and our clients include NFL players. We offer legal advice concerning contracts, endorsements, problems with agents or managers, and many other issues that are unique to the professional athlete. If you heard your name called over the weekend and you plan to be wearing a NFL jersey this fall, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office and let's discuss what we can do for you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where Does the Texas Medical Board Rank Concerning Serious Disciplinary Actions?

If a medical professional acts in a way that is inconsistent with his or her duties, each state has a medical board in place to review complaints and determine appropriate discipline. Was there a misdiagnosis that resulted in harmful treatment? Did your psychiatrist make inappropriate advances towards you? Perhaps the surgeon down the street decided to make a little extra money by selling prescription medication to family and friends. All of these issues would be brought before a medical board. Some in the Texas state legislature believe that our state's medical board is too powerful and there is pending legislation to curtail its powers. However, is the concern warranted?

New rankings were released this week by Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that ranks the number of serious disciplinary actions taken every year by medical boards. Where did Texas fall on that list? Between 2006 and 2008, the Texas Medical Board ranked thirty-third out of the fifty states and Washington, D.C. based on how often it has revoked a medical license, had a doctor surrender a license, suspended a license or restricted a license. This number is low despite the fact that the number of complaints filed with the Texas Medical Board has greatly increased over the past several years.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Public Citizen’s acting president and director of its Health Research Group, believes it may be the latter. As part of the study's release, which shows a national downward trend in discipline, he stated that, “State lawmakers must give serious attention to finding out why their states are failing to discipline doctors and then they need to take action." Perhaps he would recommend that instead of limiting the power of the medical board, our legislature should be doing more to make sure the existing powers are being used effectively.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in the area of medical licensing and review before medical boards. We are following the decisions of the lawmakers in Austin so that our clients can know exactly what to expect if they are ever brought before the Texas Medical Board. If you are a doctor or other medical professional who needs legal assistance, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Governor Signs Into Law Measure to Bring More Movie Production to Texas

Have you ever dreamed of landing a walk-on role in the next 19th century period piece starring Meryl Streep? Or, maybe you envision yourself starring opposite Tom Hanks in a blockbuster romantic comedy that will dominate the box office all summer long? You know that you would be clutching an Academy Award in your hands if only you lived in New York or Los Angeles, as all of the major movies seem to be filmed in these cities. Governor Rick Perry may have helped you and other Texans come one step closer to your silver screen dreams.

Yesterday, the governor signed legislation that has the purpose of drawing more moviemakers to the Lone Star State. The new law, which was proposed by Rep. Dawnna Dukes of Austin, gives the Texas Film Commission more leeway concerning the size of grants that it can offer to production companies. While Texas already has a film and television incentive law in place, the hope is that this new measure provide even more encouragement to get the cameras rolling here. Texas has such a wonderful variety of backdrops for movies and I look forward to seeing both our cities and open spaces highlighted more after this new law takes effect.

As more movie productions set up shop here, there should be greater opportunity for local actors and technical staff to get involved in the filmmaking process, let alone Hollywood celebrities. With these newly opened doors will come contracts to be signed, intellectual property rights to be protected, and performance agreements to be arranged. The attorneys at Bertolino LLP who practice entertainment law will be able to assist you with this process. in fact, our law firm has attorneys who are also registered and licensed talent agents who actively represent aspiring actors and actresses throughout Texas. If you live in Texas and are involved in any way with the entertainment or talent agency industry, please contact one of our entertainment lawyers at our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office and let's discuss how we can help.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Efforts to Require Boating License in Texas Tabled Until Future Session

With summer quickly approaching, we know that many Texans will be enjoying the wonderful outdoor opportunities that our state offers. Many of our residents who live along our coastline or near one of our many other waterways have invested in a boat. The water provides a great way to relax or engage in sports during these long, hot months. The boaters in Texas will want to know that a potential new restriction to their water fun has proven unsuccessful in the State Senate, at least for this year.

Certain activities with the potential for deadly force, such as driving a car or carrying a gun, require a license in the state of Texas. Senator Jeff Wentworth, a Republican from San Antonio, wanted to mandate the same certification for those who operate a boat in our state. His legislation would have covered all powered watercraft that travel over 10mph. Anyone who wanted to take such a vessel into the water would have had to complete and pass a safety course from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and, as a result, obtain a "boater identification card." Wentworth points to the 61 people who died in boating accidents last year as the motivation for his proposed bill.

There are only six states in our country that do not require any boating education requirements. And, a study three years ago by the
National Association of State Boating Law Administrators shows that those states with the longest history of such requirements have the lowest boating fatality rates. Such information has convinced Senator Wentworth that his efforts are worthwhile. During session today, he plans to propose a state study of the issue and perhaps reintroduce the licensing requirement in two years.

So, as it stands now, you are free to operate a boat in Texas without a license as long as you are eighteen years old. This does not mean that you are free from responsibility if an accident should occur while you are behind the wheel. If you made a poor decision while operating a water craft and criminal or civil charges have resulted, the criminal defense attorneys and personal injury attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss your case.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Texas Senate to Increase Penalty for Computer Hacking

Just think for a moment about all of the information that the Texas state government stores on its computers. Do you ever wonder about the emails that got sent to Governor Rick Perry last week from his staff after he announced that Texas potentially could secede from the United States? I'm sure there were a few interesting exchanges. Or, how about all of the records of court proceedings that have been sealed because they reveal intimate information about a celebrity or details that must be left private for future investigations? Millions of social security numbers can be pulled from the screens, from which endless details concerning a person's income, family history, and entire identities can be stolen. The desire to tap into the state's computer system must be pretty tempting for someone who is already inclined towards illegal activity. One legislator in Austin wants to prevent such computer hackings from occurring by increasing the penalties for those who are caught.

Senator Kel Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo, wants to increase the punishment for hacking into the computer systems of either the state government or a “critical infrastructure facility” from a Class B misdemeanor to a felony. Those found guilty of the crime would face up to two years in a state jail or even more prison time if the hacking results in more serious consequences. This penalty would hold true even if the criminal did not succeed in stealing any data from the computer system.

State and federal governments are in a constant struggle to keep up with the new ways that people find to use computers for nefarious purposes. From cyberbullying to email spamming to viruses cloaked as a friendly birthday card, laws are just now being written and legitimized by the courts to protect victims from the evils that lurk within their computers. Hacking of government files is yet another problem that our elected officials are now addressing.

The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP are following this bill, as well as all other current legislation affecting criminal law in our state, to make sure that we are always able to give our clients the best possible representation. If hacking of government computers becomes a more serious crime but you get succumb to the urge to tap into the private records of the Texas Department of Agriculture, we can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio if you find yourself accused of any crime and let's discuss your case.

Friday, April 17, 2009

San Antonio Teacher Arrested for Sending Sexual Text Message to Student

While parents take comfort knowing that their teenagers have cell phones in their possession when it comes to issues of safety while out with friends or working late at night, there also are legitimate concerns with this wonderful piece of technology. Are kids using the phones to communicate with friends with whom you have made it clear a relationship is not allowed? Are they being used as instruments to cheat during exams? There is also the new trend of "sexting" that is so dangerous and yet commonly done by young people for a false sense of approval or maturity. The first worry that enters the head of a mom or dad is likely not the possibility of their child receiving an inappropriate text message from a teacher. Unfortunately, an arrest earlier this week in San Antonio proves that this type of communication is possible.

John Calvin Hegedus, a teacher at Holy Name Catholic School in San Antonio, is facing charges of online solicitation of a minor for sexual conduct and attempted sexual assault of a child. Hegedus is accused of sending sexually graphic text messages to a minor at his school in which he describes the acts that he wants to perform on the child. The arrest came after the parents of the text message recipient discovered the criminal communication and took the phone to the authorities. Hegedus is now spending time at the Guadalupe County Jail instead of paying the $200,000 bond. Students will not need to visit Hegedus at his new home behind bars in order to receive their religion lessons, as he has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Bertolino LLP has experienced criminal defense attorneys who are ready to assist anyone who has been accused of illegal activity, whether or not a cell phone is involved. If you are facing possible jail time as a result of criminal charges, you need to make sure that you have aggressive representation by your side. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Texas Teen Who Attempted to Have Classmate Killed Learns His Sentence

Last June, I wrote a blog post about a seventeen-year-old boy from Pasadena, Texas by the name of Thomas Moses Ramirez. He had reached the unfortunate conclusion that by killing a fifteen-year-old girl who he believed to be interfering with his attempts to reconcile with a girlfriend, he would create the opportunity for love to blossom again. Ramirez found an undercover officer who was posing as a contract killer and offered him $150 and $15 worth of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in return for the murder. Ramirez's first red flag moment should have been when the officer offered to commit the crime for such a low fee, but apparently that did not emerge as a concern. Yesterday, in a Harris County courtroom, Thomas Ramirez finally learned his fate.

District Judge Ruben Guerrero sentenced the teenager to twenty years in prison after he pleaded guilty to solicitation of capital murder. Perhaps one of the more damaging pieces of evidence was the recording of the exchange between Ramirez and the undercover officer in which Ramirez said, "Just go ahead and stab her in the heart. That's it." Ramirez's attorney, Greg Glass, had requested that his client receive only probation as his punishment due to the fact that he had never been in trouble with the law before and that prison would do nothing except teach him criminal behavior. When the judge instead determined that Ramirez may be sitting behind bars until he reaches his late-30s, his family made their feelings known loudly to everyone present and the bailiff was forced to clear the courtroom.

Ramirez will now need to serve at least half of his sentence before he will be eligible for parole. In the meantime, the girl who was threatened by Ramirez says that she still fears for her life. Perhaps yesterday's sentencing will finally give her some peace of mind.

There is never a reason to seek out a contract killer to end the life of someone who you believe to be interfering with your happiness. However, even those who make this horrible decision deserve to have thorough and fair representation during their day in court. If you have been accused of this horrible crime, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you are in need of legal assistance.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Doctor Reprimanded by Texas Medical Board for Having Sex with Patient

Television and movies sometimes like to make fun of the practice of psychiatry and treat its relevance in a trivial light. For example, a dad unintentionally scares his children when he jumps into their bedroom dressed as a clown and mom is heard saying, "Well, I guess we'll be using those college savings for years of therapy bills instead." In reality, millions of men and women seek psychiatric treatment for genuine and serious problems of depression, abuse, and relationship problems. Their medical diagnoses are much more than a punch line. In no legitimate course will a hopeful doctor learn that having sex with a patient is part of an approved cure. In fact, such an act will instead result in professional, and possible criminal, consequences.

Doctor Alan T. Lloyd has been reprimanded by the Texas Medical Board for his decision to have sex with a patient who was seeking his counsel for depression and thoughts of suicide. Lloyd treated the woman in Houston from 2003 until 2007 and now lives with her in San Antonio. He unsuccessfully attempted to convince the board that the intimate relationship did not begin until the doctor/patient relationship had ended. The over-friendly doctor now must take a course on "professional boundaries," pay a $10,000 fine, and pass a medical bar exam within a year. If these steps are not completed, Lloyd will have his medical license suspended. Texas law does make it illegal for doctors to have sex with patients, so Dr. Lloyd still could face criminal charges.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in the area of medical licensing and medical boards. If you are a doctor and you have been brought before the Texas Medical Board for any reason, we have experienced lawyers who will provide you with the best possible representation. When your professional livelihood is at stake, you want to have a knowledgeable and aggressive attorney by your side. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if we can be of service.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Texas Senator Wants Criminalize Sale of Psychedelic Plant to Minors

Have you noticed lately that your neighbor is taking a break from mowing his lawn to pick up some of the cut foliage, roll it in papers, and smoke it? Or, perhaps one of your young children came home from school and mentioned that his friend's older brother got sick from "saliva"? If so, then you recognize the problem that Senator Craig Estes is trying to address this session in the Texas legislature.

Estes has sponsored Senate Bill 257, which was passed in the Senate and now waits for its day of reckoning in the House. Under this legislation, the sale of the plant Salvia divinorum would be made illegal to any interested patrons under the age of eighteen. The reason for this desired restriction is due to the hallucinogenic effects of the plant when smoked, chewed, or mixed into water. According to Estes, the effects of the ingested greenery range from "encountering spirits in foreign lands to ... thrashing around and sustaining injuries without feeling pain." He wants to protect minors from this psychedelic danger in the same way that states prohibit the sale of cigarettes from those who are not legally considered adults.

If Estes' bill passes, the sale of Salvia divinorum would be considered a Class C misdemeanor and carry a possible punishment of a $500 fine but no jail time. Texas would be following the lead of several other states who have outlawed the plant. But, it would be ahead of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which has not deemed Salvia divinorum dangerous enough to regulate.

The Salvia divinorum is a deriative of a salvia plant that is popular in many Austin yards. We certainly do not want anyone to unknowingly violate the law by selling the foliage to an eager teenager who lives down the street. If this bill becomes law and you do sell Salvia denorium, you may need legal representation. The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio if we can be of assistance with any shrubbery-related or other criminal matter.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Texas Senate Approves Rebates for Those Who Purchase Hybrid Cars

Have you found yourself repeatedly saying things like, "I really like the look of that new Prius model, particularly in blue. If only the government would provide me an incentive, I would buy one tomorrow" or "I've been meaning to replace my refrigerator with one of those energy-saving alternatives. If I could get some kind of tax cut, the extra cost of buying all-new matching ice cube trays would be well worth it!"? If so, then you may be in luck.

Yesterday, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would provide a $4000 rebate to consumers who choose to purchase a plug-in hybrid vehicle. This same incentive is being offered for large applicances as long as you agree to put your current one out of commission. This sweeping clean air bill also includes more strigent requirements when new plants are being built in heavily populated areas. Environmental regulators could make the decision that a company must first close an old plant in the same area or find a way to offset the new pollution that is being created. If this bill passes, you will likely find that businesses wishing to open plants in areas that are experiencing a pollution problem, such as Houston, will have a more difficult time getting the necessary permits to build.

Advocates of the legislation point to the fact that cleaner air is already evident in large cities due to previous actions taken by the state legislature, and these further measures will help to continue this improvement.

Changes to the clean air legislation in Texas undoubtedly will have an impact on many businesses in our state. If you are a business owner and have questions on what the decisions made in Austin will mean to you, we have business law attorneys who are ready to help. Please contact the offices of Bertolino LLP in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Texas Legislature Considers Trans Fat Ban

There is nothing particularly appetizing about the phrase "trans fats." I doubt that the sound of those words makes your mouth water and you probably never say to your husband or wife, "Hey, Honey, let's have some trans fat tonight for dinner!" However, when included as an ingredient in your favorite dessert or deep-fried dinner, you may not worry about this specific nutritional factor and instead just focus on the taste. The problem is, though, that trans fats have been shown to raise the bad kind of cholesterol and therefore lead to a greater chance of coronary heart disease. The question being asked now is, does the government have a role to play in protecting you from this dangerous product? Some of our legislators in Texas believe so.

Senate Bill 204 and House Bill 1523 would ban the use of trans fats in Texas restaurants by September 1, 2010. Restaurants with fewer than fifteen locations and bakeries would be given an extra year to comply. The motivation behind this bill is the alarming obesity rate that is already affecting Texas. Currently, 28.8% of the adults in our state are considered obese, and that number could rise to an astonishing 42.6% by the year 2040. Those in favor of the bill believe that any steps that can be taken to curb this growing health epidemic should be taken.

Texas would be following in the footsteps of California and large cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia if it chooses to enact the ban.
However, opponents believe it should be the individual, not the government, who makes the decisions concerning food intake. As Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) said, "At what point do we stop? Why don't we just set up a government feeding center and control it all?"

The business litigation attorneys and business law lawyers at Bertolino LLP are always following any legal changes that may affect your business practices. Please contact us today if you have any questions about how this possible trans fat ban, or any other acts in Austin, will affect your livelihood. We have lawyers in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio who are ready to assist you today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Measure to Protect Students at Texas Schools for Disabled Passes Through House Committee

One of the most important roles that our government plays, from the smallest City Council all the way to the White House and the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., is the protection of its people from harm. We have laws in place to protect our citizens from physical crimes, such as murder, assault, and rape. And our government also works to defend those who have been the victim of those crimes which leave no physical mark, such as defamation and robbery. The role of our state and federal legislators to adopt protective measures is heightened when discussing those who are least capable of speaking out in their own defense. One bill that was passed unanimously in the Texas House Human Services Committee yesterday hopes to improve on our state's ability to help one such group of Texans.

The bill, which was proposed by Rep. Patrick Rose, would install greater protection from abuse for residents who are enrolled in one of our state schools for the disabled. The measure would establish a state school ombudsman and a toll-free abuse hotline, as well as set up video surveillance cameras in each of the thirteen schools. In addition, this legislation would require more intense training of care workers, protect employees who report abusive colleagues, and increase the state penalty for failing to report mistreatment. The measure has been designated as emergency legislation, and has received full support from Governor Rick Perry. With this tag of urgency, we can expect that the full House will be addressing the details of this bill shortly.

At Bertolino LLP, we understand that attorneys have an important obligation in protecting the legal rights of the citizens of Texas and to hold people accountable who do not follow the law. We have personal injury lawyers who are ready to assist you if you have a family member who has been mistreated in a school that services the disabled. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you have any questions regarding your situation.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

House Bill Concerning Collection and Storage of Newborn Blood to Be Debated Today

I speak from personal experience. The moments following the birth of a child in a hospital is a flurry of emotions and activity. A proud father cuts the umbilical cord, the baby is weighed and measured, and the infant takes that first precious nap (hopefully!) in his mother's arms. During these first couple of days, at least in Texas, doctors also take a sample of the newborn's blood to test for birth defects and other disorders. What many parents do not know is that this blood is then stored for possible future research and becomes the property of the state. The Texas House of Representatives is now proposing legislation that would require agreement, or at least no objection, from the parents in order for hospitals to continue with this policy of blood storage.

House Bill 1672, which was proposed by Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton), would require doctors and other medical providers to provide disclosure forms to parents informing them of the storage process and allowing them to opt out. This bill passed through committee last month, but now another legislator wants to make some changes and put even more responsibility on those who are collecting the blood. Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) has filed an amendment requiring the Department of State Health Services to get written approval from parents or guardians to store samples. If this consent is not received, the medical facility must destroy the blood within sixty (60) days. The full Texas House will consider the bill, with its new amendment, during today's session.

We have health law attorneys at Bertolino LLP who practice in the area of medical licensing and review before medical boards. Therefore, we make certain that we are aware of all possible changes to medical policies at the state and national level. We will be following the decisions made here in Austin concerning the collection and storage of newborn blood so that we are ready to assist medical professionals who have questions or who are facing challenges related to any new law. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you are a doctor or other medical professional who needs legal assistance today.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bill in Texas House Would Protect Snake Hunters

There are countless wonderful reasons for tourists to visit our great state of Texas. People can stand before the Alamo and remember the moment when a small band of brave men stood firm for our country. Check out the Dallas-Ft. Worth area if you want to spend some time in an overwhelming and thriving metropolis. If you are fascinated by space travel, why would you go anywhere but Houston? If you are a sports fan, from the high school through the professional level, you simply cannot beat the teams and athletes that Texas offers in every state. Did I mention the food, the music, the rodeos, and open expanses of nature? Apparently, there is yet another popular reason to visit Texas -- snakes!

The state of Texas, and specifically the area of West Texas, receives around $2 million in revenue every year from people who come to our state based on their love of reptiles and amphibians. We have quite the variety of such animals, and interested collectors travel here to find their very own specimen. Representatives Joe Farias and Tracy King have co-sponsored legislation that would protect snake hunters. Under House Bill 1500, people would be allowed to capture, trap or hunt such animals from roadways and right-of-ways. If this bill is signed into law, will we see cars with out-of-state tags crawling along the slow lanes of our highways looking for that treasured species of snake that would complete their perfect collection? Will lizards be more careful to stay hidden amongst the brush instead of hanging out at the local stop sign?

At Bertolino LLP, we are always monitoring the actions taking place in Austin. Our state legislators obviously address a wide range of policy issues and we know that it is important for attorneys to stay up-to-date on the latest legal changes. We will follow the status of snake hunters along with the other bills found on the docket of these busy lawmakers. If you have any questions about your standing with any of our state laws, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Strip Club Tax Approved by Texas House

Freedom of speech has been a cherished right in our country ever since the Constitution was ratified more than 200 years ago. This essential component of the First Amendment has protected those who have publicly criticized our government, expressed opinions that may be deemed offensive by some, or wear clothing that symbolizes a particular view point. Or, as a recent case in Texas has proven, freedom of speech can be used as a defense by some hard-working professionals who choose to wear no clothes at all. A Travis County district judge (here in Austin) recently ruled that the state of Texas could no longer charge a $5.00 per patron tax on the owners of nude dancing establishments, as this tax targets a protected form of expression, and the Texas House jumped into action this week to determine an appropriate alternative.

House Bill 982, which is sponsored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), would require a a ten percent tax on admission fees to all sexually oriented businesses. This legislation would include not only topless dancing clubs, but also adult video and book stores. This tax will raise anywhere between four and eight million dollars for the Texas state coffers, with three-quarters of the funds going to sexual assault programs and the rest promised to public schools. Isn't it good to know the source of the money for Johnny's new science book?

Critics of the bill believe it is too much of a compromise to the adult entertainment industry, as most video stores do not even charge an admission fee and strip clubs can choose to lower their cover charges to reduce the taxes they would owe. The state has not given up on the $5.00 per person tax option, as the case is currently pending appeal in Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals. Estimates show that this current law, passed in 2007, raises three times as much money for the state as would be gathered under the bill offered by Rep. Thompson.

Be advised that this law firm does not condone (let alone advocate for) strip clubs in any way. But we do believe in free enterprise and the legal right to run and operate a legitimate business. If you own a business in Texas that is being incorrectly taxed by the state or if the restructuring of tax laws is requiring a change in your business plan, the business lawyers at Bertolino LLP can help. We have business litigation attorneys ready to help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Texas Teenagers May Need Doctor's Note to Use Tanning Bed

The annual ritual of spring break is in full swing for high school and college students everywhere. Beaches right here in our great state of Texas are a popular destination for young people looking for a week of fun away from parents and teachers. In preparation, tanning salons are filled with those who want to look like they already have spent weeks lounging by the water on the day they arrive. Some legislators in the Texas House want to make that popular bronzing effort more difficult for those who are under the age of eighteen.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Public Health approved a bill that would require a doctor's note and the presence of a parent for any client under the age of eighteen who shows up at a salon requesting the use of a tanning bed. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Burt Solomons, has the intention of enacting the strictest laws concerning tanning regulations for teens in the country. The legislation has strong support from doctors, who warn against the dangers of ultraviolet light that is used in tanning beds. While teenagers only constitute five percent of tanning customers, salon owners fear that this law would hurt business in an already struggling economy.

Under current Texas law, everyone under the age of eighteen needs the permission of a parent. Those who are under sixteen years of age and desire darker skin must have a parent present. And, only young clients up to the age of thirteen now need a note from the doctor.

If you used a tanning salon that you believe was not following strict oversight of its procedures and you have medical problems as a result, Bertolino LLP has personal injury attorneys who can fight for the compensation you deserve. If you are the owner of a tanning salon who has been unfairly accused of poor business practices, our lawyers who practice in the area of business litigation can offer the defense you need. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Texas House Discussing the Need for "Scientifically Accurate" Information in Sex Education Classes

The state legislators in Austin are concerned with all aspects of education for the children in our state. Of course, we want to know that when we send our next generation of leaders to the public schools in Texas that they are receiving the best possible education in math, science, humanities and the arts. This knowledge will allow our students to compete in the workplace and simply be well-rounded adults. However, there is another area of study that is currently on the mind of our elected leaders and that is sex education. Is Texas providing its students with the best and most appropriate information when it comes to this controversial topic? Some members of the state house think we could be doing better.

One of the bills being considered during this session is House Bill 1567, which would require all instruction concerning condoms and contraception to be “scientifically accurate.” This piece of legislation would not require schools to discuss condoms as part of the curriculum, but simply creates some standards if the topic is mentioned. According to the language in the bill, the information shared must be verified or supported by research, published in peer-reviewed journals if applicable, and recognized as accurate by relevant professional organizations. In other words, the gym teacher will not be allowed to assert as fact his own personal opinion concerning how long a condom can stay in a teenage boy's wallet and still be useful.

Occasionally, you can follow the most reliable advice concerning contraception offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the American Public Health Association and still find yourself expecting a child. If this life was not created with purposeful intention by both partners, there may be some disagreements concerning child support and child custody. Bertolino LLP has family law attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who can help. Please contact our offices today.