Be careful: New laws regarding schools

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Within the past month Texas has seen more than 650 state law changes, two of which could cost drivers hundreds of dollars.

HB 347 works to expand the locations and limitations of the use of cell phones in school zones. This law will now be implemented in school crossing zones, but only during the designated reduced speed times. HB 347 does not apply to stopped vehicles or drivers using hand-free devices.

HB 1174 increases the penalties for passing a stopped school bus. For the first offensive the fine was originally $200-$1,000, now it has been increased to $500-$1,250. Additionally if a second offense is committed in a 5-year period, a fine of at least $2,000 may be issued.

Also affecting schools is HB 1009, which gives schools the option to have a designated school marshal. For a fee, the school marshal would be allowed to have a permitted handgun and be granted all the rights of a law enforcement officer after undergoing training and certification.

At Tanglewood Elementary, all five parents asked were unaware of the bill changes.

Although it might seem odd that few seem to be aware of these changes, it is unlikely for many people to feel their effect in the 109. Fort Worth ISD has either already implemented these changes or lacks lawful authority to enforce them.

According to an email from Clint Bond, Fort Worth ISD’s Director of External and Emergency Communications, Fort Worth ISD will not be implementing a school marshal. Bond said that secondary schools in the district contract with Fort Worth and Benbrook police officers, assigning an officer to each school.

As for HB 347 and 1174, though active, Bond said that the school district does not have much control over enforcing these laws.

“We don’t set up or monitor crossing zones so any enforcement off campus would have to be by the local law enforcement authorities or the officers assigned to our campuses," Bond said, referring to cell phone usage. "On campus enforcement would also be by officers assigned.”

Bond does, however, note that this law has the potential to increase the safety of students walking to and from school.

When it comes to passing a stopped school bus, Bond said that even though this too will be hard for law enforcement agencies to patrol, the school district is looking into new technologies for school buses, such as external cameras, which could potentially aid the enforcement of this law.

To better grasp the reasoning behind this legislation, the three state representatives who authored each bill were contacted, but only Rep. Jim Pitts (HB 347) responded.

Pitts explained, through a press release, that Red Oak ISD Superintendent, Scott Niven, and Red Oak ISD Chief of Police, Scott Lindsey, approached him with concerns that the existing 'Safe School Crossing Zone' prohibition on cell phone use did not cover “public school campuses after a driver turned off the public road onto school property.”

The laws are in place, but whether they have a recognizable effect in Fort Worth has not been determined yet.

“We all want our school children to be safe and House Bill 347 was a small step that can have a big impact,” said Pitts.

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