Sunday, May 31, 2009

Texas House Votes for Resolution Supporting States' Rights

The federal government can dictate a lot to the individual states by loosening and tightening its Congressional purse strings or by simply mandating a decision that will impact all of us. Recently though, through "tea party" protests and our own governor's reminder that secession is always an option, the decisions of our elected officials in Washington, D.C. have come under increased scrutiny. The citizens of Texas have always had a strong independent streak, so it should be no surprise that, this past weekend, its legislative body took up the very idea of asserting its strength over the federal government.

HCR 50 is a non-binding resolution that was introduced by Rep. Brandon Creighton, a Republican from Conroe. The text of this resolution supported the idea of "states' rights" as determined by the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution. Creighton believes that the federal government should stay out of the lives of Texans as much as possible, but insisted that he was not calling for secession. In his own words, "It's about succeeding in the union, not seceding from the union." Apparently, many of his many fellow House members agreed with this sentiment, as the resolution passed with a vote of 99-36.

Those who opposed the resolution pointed to the fact that states' rights has historically been an argument used by those who wanted to deprive equal rights to minorities, and most of the votes in opposition came from African American and Hispanic Democrats.

There are countless areas of law and policy that are determined by a partnership between the federal and state government, including education, abortion, drugs and alcohol, taxes, and many others. What are your thoughts? Do you think that the people and elected officials of Texas should have more autonomy over what happens in our state? Or, do you believe that our country benefits from having unified policies? Please let us know what you think!

Either way, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP are experienced in both federal and state laws and work aggressively to keep our clients in good standing with both Austin and Washington, D.C. If you have any legal question or concern, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Legislature Grants Approval for Texas Mother to Sue State

If you live in Texas and follow the news at all, you are probably familiar with the case of Haseeb Chishty. Mr. Chishty is a man in his thirties with mental disabilities who had been living in the Denton State School in order to improve his eating and behavioral skills. In 2002, he was beaten by a school employee who later pled guilty to the assault and admitted to being high on drugs at the time. Mr. Chishty now requires around-the-clock care that is similar to what is needed by an infant, with these duties being shared by his mother, his two siblings, and an aide who is compensated through Medicaid. Since the incident, his mother has been testing the accepted standard of where the blame for tragedy should be placed.

Farhat Chishty wants to be able to sue the state of Texas for what happened to her son while he was in the care of a state-run facility. As an entity, the state enjoys sovereign immunity and the legislature must approve any efforts to bring a case against Texas. In the past, only twenty-three out of 307 filed resolutions to sue have been approved by the state. Mrs. Chishty can now state that she is number twenty-four. On Wednesday, the Senate approved a House resolution that will allow the Chishty family to sue both the residential facility and the agency that oversees it, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. The measure now goes to the governor for his signature.

Texas has long been under attack for the quality of care provided in their state facilities, with the legislature approving hundreds of millions of dollars this session in an effort to improve the situation. I imagine that this resolution on behalf of Haseeb Chishty is another way in which our elected officials are trying to set things right.

The law offices of Bertolino LLP have personal injury attorneys who will work with you to get the compensation that you deserve. We know that a traumatic injury to a loved one affects the entire family and has a lasting emotional impact. We want to remove some of that burden from you. If you need legal assistance, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Changes Coming to Automatic Admissions Policy for University of Texas

For more than a decade, Texas students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class enjoyed the comfort of knowing that they could attend the state public university of their choice. This measure was adopted by the Texas legislature in 1997 as a way of increasing the diversity of the student population at University of Texas-Austin. However, the law has come under scrutiny from our elected officials this year, at the request of university officials, and it appears that changes to the policy are coming.

The State Senate has agreed to go along a House bill that will limit the number of students granted acceptance under the ten percent policy to seventy-five percent of entering freshmen from Texas. Eighty-one percent of the freshman at the school this past year were accepted based on the ten percent rule. While University officials had hoped for the cap to be more like fifty or sixty percent, they are pleased that UT-Austin will have more discretion over its incoming classes with the passage of this law. As Governor Rick Perry has already stated his support for limiting the automatic admission law, his signature of approval is expected.

We know that changes to policies in higher education affect families all across Texas. You may have been counting on your child's strong ranking in his graduating class to be his ticket to Austin, and now those plans may have to change. What the future holds for your son or daughter regarding higher education, even if those plans are still years away, impacts your business plans, the way in which wills are written, or even your child support settlements. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who practice in all of these relevant areas. If you have any legal questions regarding your child and education policy in this state, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Concealed Weapons on Campus Passes in Texas Senate

As I have discussed on this blog before, the Texas state legislature has grappled this session with the controversial idea of allowing students to carry their concealed handguns on campus. The proposed legislation, which stemmed from the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech two years ago, would allow students and employees who are at least twenty-one years old who already have a license to carry a concealed weapon to bring their guns into campus buildings. Exceptions would be made for campus medical and athletic facilities. Last week, the bill came one step closer to being law.

The Texas Senate gave final passage to the campus handgun bill with a 19-12 vote. As the sponsor of the bill, Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), said, "“I would feel personally guilty if I woke up one morning and read that something similar [to the tragedy at Virginia Tech] had occurred on a Texas campus." Opponents continue to argue that adding more guns to an environment is not going to improve a gun-related problem.

The bill must now go back to the House for debate and a vote by the same lawmakers who allowed the proposal to die last week by not discussing it before the deadline. As of this post, exactly half of the members of the House have pledged their support for the bill.

If the bill gets signed into law, students at all state universities would be able to put their concealed weapon permit into use. Private institutions would be able to opt out of the law if they so choose.

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP are aggressive defenders of your constitutional rights and follow all of the activity in Austin in order to know where you stand with Texas law. However, if you make the poor decision to take a gun into your engineering or psychology building before the state gives you the legal clearance, you will need legal representation. We have criminal defense attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to assist you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Today, most of us will pause from our normal work responsibilities to enjoy the unofficial start to summer that is Memorial Day. I hope that all of you are enjoying a wonderful day with family and friends.

In the midst of the grilling and the poolside lounging and nighttime fireworks, the most important act we do today will be taking the time to remember those brave service men and women who deserve our respect and honor not just on Memorial Day, but every day.

On behalf of the attorneys at Bertolino LLP, I would like to thank the members of our military who are stationed around the world in defense of our freedom. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the family members who are holding strong and playing such an important role on the home front. And, to those who gave all for this country, you are on our minds today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ten Houston Men Charged with Trafficking Arms to Mexico

As a border state, Texas is on the front lines of the many issues associated with immigration policy. Of increasing concern over the past couple of years has been the infighting taking place between various Mexican drug cartels, as well as between the cartels and the Mexican government. The violence has spilled over into the United States, and the very real possibility that Mexico could cease to exist as an organized state has daunting consequences for the people of our state, as well as throughout the world. Just yesterday, ten Houston men were arrested for contributing to the horrific bloodshed that is taking place every day just south of our border.

Most high school buddies spend their time reminiscing about that last-minute football victory or the senior prank that almost got them suspended. Instead, these ten guys, all in their twenties, used the bonds of their school days to traffic arms to Mexican drug cartel soldiers. They conspired to ship 151 weapons which were the civilian equivalent of M-16 assault rifles. Some of the weapons were discovered after being used by the cartel members to commit vicious kidnappings and murders. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has stated that Houston is the top location in the United States for weapons later discovered in Mexico.

The men are all charged with conspiracy to make a false statement to purchase a firearm and face up to five years in prison.

At Bertolino LLP, we have both immigration and criminal defense attorneys who can assist you if you have been accused of a crime involving the security of our borders. We are knowledgeable on all of the latest federal and state laws surrounding immigration and international disputes. If you are facing such serious charges, please do not face your day in court without legal representation by your side. We have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to help you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Texas Legislatures Pass Measures to Keep More People Buckled in While Traveling

The 2009 legislative session in Austin is drawing to a close soon, with June 1 marking the date on which our elected officials will return to their home districts to tout their achievements for the year. So, you can expect there to be a flurry of activity in the Capitol over the next couple of weeks as there are still several issues of consequence to be tackled. One topic that received some attention in the latter part of this past week was who needs to be buckled into a moving vehicle, as well as specifically how certain riders should be restrained.

On Friday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would raise the age of children who must be strapped into booster seats from all kids five years old and under to children who are under the age of eight. Those who violate this policy will have a grace period during which only a warning will be received, but a $25 fine will be enacted in September 2010 with fines for subsequent offenses possibly as high as $250. The money raised from these fines will be used to purchase booster seats for low-income families. This bill already has been approved by the House and now just awaits the governor’s signature. So, parents of young children, consider this your ample warning to do some booster seat shopping if you previously thought your kid was beyond the need for such an accessory.

The Texas Senate also approved this week a measure that would require everyone, regardless of age, to be buckled into a seat belt while riding in a car or truck. Under current Texas law, seat belts are only required for all riders in the front seat only and in the backseat for those age fourteen and under. The penalty for not wearing your seatbelt would be a misdemeanor fine of between $25 and $50. The bill still must be passed in the House.

We know that these proposed laws were written with the intention of keeping the people of Texas safer when traveling on our roads. However, while seatbelts and booster seats certainly have been shown to prevent or lessen injuries during an accident, it is impossible to avoid tragic situations altogether. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence or poor driving, the personal injury attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. We have lawyers in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to listen to your situation and offer a plan to get you the compensation you deserve.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Texas House Votes to Ban Cell Phone Use in School Zones

Texas law, as well as statutes established by many local communities in our state, has placed certain restrictions on the types of activities that can occur within the perimeter of a determined school zone. Speed limits are greatly reduced, at least during the days on which school is in session. Anyone caught with drugs while on school property can expect a greatly heightened fine or increased jail time. Now, the House has tentatively approved another way in which behavior must be modified around our school children. This time, those indispensable cell phones are involved.

Yesterday, the Texas House voted for a ban on the use of cell phones by drivers in an active school zone. Exceptions would be made for hands-free devices, on-duty emergency services, and certain licensed radio operators. Emergencies experienced by private citizens while moving through a school zone also may be reason for forgiveness when a fine is issued.

The ban brings with it a maximum fine of $25 for a first offense and up to $50 for any subsequent offenses. It still requires a final vote in the House and then approval by the Senate before being submitted to Governor Rick Perry for his needed signature. Similar measures have already been approved in Texas cities such as El Paso as well as in towns across our country. With police officers regularly patrolling school zones looking for speeders or other threats to the safety of our children, the belief is that enforcing this new law would be easy to accomplish.

Whether or not this new law is put into place, we know that talking or texting with a cell phone while driving can be dangerous to others on the road. If you experience an injury due to a driver's distracted operation of his vehicle, the personal injury attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. If you are in need of legal assistnace, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Texas Increases Compensation for Those Wrongly Accused of a Crime

The criminal justice system that exists at all levels of our government states as its most important premise that any person accused of wrongdoing is “innocent until proven guilty.” We have laws in place that guarantee the right to a fair and speedy trial, witnesses to speak on behalf of the accused, legal representation, and other components that hopefully work to place the right people behind bars and allow those who are innocent to resume a normal life without punishing consequences. Unfortunately, humans are involved in this process and we do not always get the right result. In some instances, men and women have been wrongly convicted of crimes and lost years of their lives within our prisons. The State Senate in Texas passed a bill yesterday that at least takes a few small steps in rectifying this wrong.

Senate Bill 1736, which is known as the Timothy Cole Act, would increase the compensation granted to those who are exonerated of a crime, or to family members if the proof of innocence comes posthumously. The bill raises the lump sum of payment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year that the person spent incarcerated in city, county, or state jail. The state is also offering $25,000 for each year wrongly spent on parole or registered as a sex offender. Finally, if the exoneree wishes to continue his education, the state will now offer up to 120 hours of free tuition at a state college.

The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP work aggressively to make sure that our clients receive the best possible representation when faced with any charges. We are committed to staying on top of changes in the legal community and following every avenue possible to clear the names of the innocent. However, we know that a miscarriage of justice does occasionally happen. If you or a family member has been wrongly convicted of a crime, we want to help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Texas State Senate Considers Extending Powers of Administrative Law Judges

The state legislators in Texas are looking for ways to curb the problem of young girls and teenagers being lured over our border from Mexico and Central America and then being forced, or driven out of desperation, into the sex trade. More vigilant patrols by law enforcement are certainly a possibility. There is also the option of increasing the fines and more severe penalties for employers who knowingly hire underage females for their club's entertainment. Another proposal, which was approved today to be considered for a vote by the full Senate, would greatly increase the powers of a segment of our state government's bureaucracy. The legislature will now have to decide if redefining the scope of one office is justified when the purpose is to protect young people.

The proposed bill would give state administrative judges the power to issue injunctions, with this decision currently held by state district judges only. These judges (known as ALJs) currently serve to hear cases referred to them by more than sixty state agencies. Right now, they are perhaps most widely known as the judges who handle complaints that are brought before panels such as the state medical and pharmacy boards. To allow these judges the ability to issue injunctions to places of business would open a completely new area of responsibility.

The bill is sponsored by State Senator Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston, who states that, "Everyone is standing together to stop these crimes involving these teenage girls who are victims." He has the support of the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission in his efforts.

One of the body's members who has some doubt about the legislation is State Senator Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, as he believes that, “This goes way around what the law allows now. The change being proposed here is a big change.”

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP have extensive experience in front of administrative law judges due to our work with clients who have been brought before medical and nursing boards. If ALJs are given the power to impose injunctions on Texas businesses, we will be ready to help your business defend itself against this threat to your livelihood. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio today if you have any questions about how the significant change may affect you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Texas Teenagers are the Focus in Several Pieces of Proposed Legislation

Have you ever peeked in on your children sleeping peacefully in their rooms late at night, smiled at their beautiful faces, but then felt a wave of concern come over you as you silently thought, "I don't think the state of Texas is doing enough to protect our teenagers. I hope that this year's session of the state legislature addressing some new steps that can be taken." As the Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend, some elected officials in Austin must have heard your internal pleas because there are several bills currently working their way through the House or the Senate that directly address the safety of our young people.

Here are a few examples:

1. Elected officials are definitely concerned about teenagers and cell phone habits in which they engage while behind the wheel of a car. Proposed legislation includes the banning of phone use, both for talking and texting, by any driver under the age of eighteen, a driving curfew after 10:00pm for anyone who has been licensed for less than a year, and stronger driver education courses. Countless studies show that young drivers are the most likely to engage in behaviors that lead to tragic automobile accidents. So, perhaps putting a stop to the texting about an upcoming party while barreling down an interstate at 2:00am is an advisable change.

2. A bill that has already passed in the Senate would raise the age required to purchase cigarettes from eighteen to nineteen. I guess that one year of being an official adult will allow to make wiser decisions concerning inhaling nicotine-laden smoke into their lungs.

3. Are you a young rodeo phenom who amazes the crowd with your bull riding or your lassoing skills? Be prepared to hear the applause from behind a helmet. The Texas Senate has passed legislation that would require a protective helmet for minors who participate in most rodeo activities.

Are these issues that should be addressed by the members of the state government? Or, are they concerns that are best left to a child's parents or guardians? Please leave your comments on this blog and let me know what you think.

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP are always following the activities in Austin so that we are best prepared to assist our clients. If you find yourself in violation of any of the new laws that are enacted in our state, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today. We will provide the aggressive legal representation that you deserve.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Texas Senate Approves "Choose Life" Plates

There are various ways in which we use our cars as a form of personal expression. If we choose to drive a bright yellow sports car, that is sending a different signal then that of getting behind the wheel of a gray minivan. We sometimes use the roof of our car to display flags that show our loyalty to the United States, the Texas Longhorns, or even the local high school. The backside of some cars are blanketed in bumper stickers that share the owners' opinions on topics ranging from world politics to eating meat to music. Another way in which Texas drivers can express an opinion on their cars is through a specialized license plate. Our state already offers around 200 options for those of us who don't want to hang the standard-issue plate from our bumper and now one more license plate has been approved by the State Senate.

On Thursday, the Texas State Senate voted 22-9 to approve the creation of a "Choose Life" license plate for our state. The money raised through the purchase of these plates would be monitored by the attorney general's office and organizations that support the adoption process could apply for grants. The intention of the money is to pay for clothing, housing, prenatal care, and other needs for expectant moms who plan to place their child up for adoption. The funds also could be used to care for infants who are waiting to be placed in a home. Senate research shows that more than $9 million has been raised by the other nineteen states that have approved a "Choose Life" plate.

The Texas House will need to approve the legislation, with more than half of its members already signaling support for a similar measure. Governor Perry has already given his public endorsement for the license plates.

If this bill becomes law, there will be paperwork that needs to be filed in order to receive a grant. Bertolino LLP has attorneys who work in the area of contract law and can make sure your documentation is ready for approval. Or, what if someone on the interstate gets distracted by staring at the new plate on a nearby car and slams into you? We have personal injury attorneys who can work to get you the compensation you deserve. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you have any type of legal question.