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Seal of the Senate of the State of Texas
Welcome to the official website for the
Texas Senate
May 10, 2023
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(AUSTIN) — Drivers who ignore emergency vehicles on the side of the road would face increased penalties under a bill considered by the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday. The state's Move Over or Slow Down law requires motorists to either move over one lane or, if they can't change lanes, to slow to 20 mph below the posted speed limit as they approach an ambulance, police vehicle, fire truck, tow truck, or other roadside response vehicle which has flashing warning lights activated. Violators can face a $200 traffic ticket and can be fined up to $2,000 if they cause a wreck that injures a roadside worker or first responder. Unfortunately, says Flower Mound Senator Tan Parker, the current penalties aren't doing enough to protect these individuals. "This session alone we have already had a handful of tragedies involving roadside responders," he said. "The death of volunteer firefighter Edward Hykel from West, Texas shows that we can be doing more to inform drivers about this law." Hykel, 60, died in March when he was hit by a tractor trailer while responding to a vehicle fire on I-35 near West.

Parker offered HB 898, which would add significantly to the penalties for violating the state Move Over or Slow Down law. It would raise the ticket fine to $500 for a first offense and $1,250 for subsequent offenses. It also enhances the penalty for causing an injury wreck, making it a class A misdemeanor, which can bring a sentence of up to one year in jail. "I've heard the criticisms that the fine increase is 'a heavy financial burden for a driver that violates this law'," said Parker. "The costs to the reckless driver who violates this law are far less in comparison to the impact it has on our roadside workers who are injured or killed because of a reckless driver."

Parker also sponsored a bill before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, one that would give school districts discretion on how to deal with a student caught using cannabis. Current penalties are harsh, requiring expulsion for students who are caught in possession of or are under the influence of marijuana on or near a school campus. "The result is that school district disciplinary alternative education programs and county juvenile justice alternative education programs are currently overrun with non-violent student offenders," said Parker. This means that there isn't space for potentially violent students who should also be in these AEP programs. It's also a conundrum for administrators. "School administrators are faced with a tough choice of whether to take action and significantly interrupt a student's academic progress or look the other way and hope it doesn't become a bigger problem," said Parker. "Neither of these is a good solution." Many of these administrators, he said, believe they can make a successful intervention on behalf of the student, but are forced to impose strict penalties because of state law.

Parker sponsored HB 114, which would give administrators discretion to expel or to choose another course of action based on the student's individual case. If administrators decide not to expel a student for a cannabis violation, the student would have to take a drug and alcohol awareness course. Mandatory expulsion would still apply to any student caught selling or otherwise delivering marijuana to another person within 300 feet of a school campus. All existing criminal codes and statutes would still apply. "We don't take these matters lightly," said Parker. "I want to stress, anyone who is dealing, selling, all of that - well everything is the same as it is today, they're going to be expelled and law enforcement will handle the situation. But we're trying to find a better path for folks that make the stupid decision to try it once." Noting that e-cigarettes are becoming the preferred method of on-campus cannabis consumption, Parker said that the bill would strengthen anti-vaping rules on campus, allowing administrators to confiscate and destroy any e-cigarette device found on a student and notify local law enforcement.

The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 11 at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.