More than 600 state laws take effect Sunday

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

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Posted on August 30, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 30 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- From highways to the unemployment office, hundreds of new laws passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature in 2013 go into effect this Sunday.

A total of 659 new laws are listed as taking effect September 1, which will join the roughly 630 new laws passed during the regular session that are already in effect. Among them is a law requiring Texans who hit the highways to give roadside workers some extra space.

"It's just a matter of trying to get people to be able to go home at night," said Chris Bishop with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). "If a driver sees a blue or amber flashing light from one of our vehicles on the side of the road, they're asking to either slow down to 20 miles below the speed limit or move over one lane."

"The number one killer for us in the line of duty is being hit by cars," said Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Trooper Robbie Barrera, explaining drivers should now treat roadside workers the same as emergency crews and law enforcement. "TxDOT could also be out there mending a guardrail due to a crash that we've worked, so now they're getting a little bit of protection out there also."

In March 2013, Gabrielle Nestande was sentenced to 180 days in jail and ten years of probation after the hit-and-run death of 30-year old Courtney Griffin in Austin. The case spurred changes in state law, and starting Sunday, drivers involved in a fatal accident who leave the scene could face a second degree felony and up to 20 years in prison.

Bomb threats called into Texas A&M University, Texas State University and the University of Texas in 2012 turned out to be hoaxes. A new law already in effect raised the penalty for anyone communicating a fake bomb threat or other false emergency to an institution of higher learning from a misdemeanor to a state jail felony.

Starting next week, Texans applying for unemployment benefits will have to pass a drug test if a screening determines they may be using drugs. Signing the bill in June, Gov. Rick Perry explained that the purpose was "to provide assistance to people through a difficult period of their lives, not to subsidize those who misuse The assistance to abuse drugs."

Other laws taking effect Sunday include special privileges for veterans of World War II, who will be allowed to park for free in non-federal metered spots if they are displaying World War II veteran license plates. Another law classifies salvia divinorum under Penalty Group 3 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act.

"It is a plant that you can plant in your yard and it actually blooms," explained Barrera. "It's very popular, let's say in the Hill Country, because deer don't like to eat it. So that's something that residents can keep blooming in their yard."

Commonly used as a recreational drug, the law adds salvia to the category of illegal drugs include peyote and various chemical salts and prohibits the possession of all parts of the plant unless it is unharvested and growing in its natural state.

They're just a few of the more than 1,300 laws passed this legislative session. For the complete list of laws passed during the regular session that take effect September 1 -- CLICK HERE.

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