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Texas bill would say a fetus can legally be a second passenger in HOV lanes

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 11/17/2022 Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News

Yes, it’s true. The government is in your life.

It’s my job as The Watchdog to scope out the stories that might affect you. These may cost you time, money and frustration.

They range from an ongoing ransomware attack on an important government agency to an ousted chief property appraiser, funeral home pricing and updated driver’s licenses.

Here are stories you should know.

HOV fetus bill

Remember Brandy Bottone of Plano, the pregnant mom who told police that she should not get a ticket for driving solo in a high-occupancy lane? She explained that her fetus, under Texas’ abortion law, should be considered a second passenger.

Her ticket was dismissed.

Now we have what I’ll call “the Brandy bill.”

State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, is one of the Texas Legislature’s leading anti-abortionists. This week, he introduced House Bill 521 for the 2023 legislative session.

The short bill states that a pregnant driver “is entitled to use any HOV lane in the state.” Although the language is unclear, I assume that means they won’t get a ticket. I tried to reach Cain but was unsuccessful.

How will this be enforced? Can a pregnant woman not yet “showing” announce she’s pregnant and get a pass? Do pregnant mothers need to carry a doctor’s note? What about a photo of an ultrasound scan?

Can’t wait to see how this is sorted out.

Bottone told me, “Wow! This is a wonderful step forward for the women of Texas. Pregnancy is stressful, but your anxiety is through the roof without the hassle of being stopped and questioned if another life is on board is a step in the right direction. Baby Charlotte and I are rooting that the bill gets passed and other states follow suit.”

Farewell Denton’s chief appraiser

I’ve reported this year about the hopeless efforts of Denton Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Hope McClure. She fell behind in her work, missed deadlines and lost the support of more than a hundred Denton County governments she’s supposed to serve.

Well, she’s gone.

In the midst of her squabble she went on paid leave Sept. 14. Her final day on the government payroll was this week.

According to her separation agreement obtained by The Watchdog, McClure was awarded a $152,000 severance settlement by the district’s board of directors.

Her top deputy, Don Spencer, is her permanent replacement.

The Watchdog wishes him well. He has a big mess to clean up.

DCAD is down

It’s the worst of times in another DCAD, the Dallas Central Appraisal District, which is the victim of a ransomware attack. The district’s website, with all its property owner information, went down on Nov. 8. As of this writing, the website, along with email and computer servers, are down, too.

So far, DCAD is not paying to restore its data. Computer experts are working on restoration.

Do you have your REAL ID?

Three years ago, The Watchdog wrote about the requirement that passengers who fly on commercial airlines need to have the latest version of a driver’s license that’s called a Real ID card.

If your Texas driver’s license has been updated in the last several years, it shows a white star in a golden circle near the upper right-hand corner. If you have that, you’re good.

The Real ID federal law, designed to increase security around driver’s licenses, is supposed to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to combat terrorism, identity theft and other crimes.

However, the feds postponed the original deadline for everyone to have the new card to fly. The new deadline is May 3, 2023.

But you can’t always waltz into a driver’s license center and ask for an updated license. It’s more of a slow dance, a confusing and often frustrating process. Sometimes an appointment is best. Other times, walk-in spots are available.

The issuance of driver’s licenses falls under the purview of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has struggled for years to get this right.

Renew online or change an address at Texas.gov/driver. Or renew by phone at 1-866-357-3639.

Schedule an appointment at dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/appointments.htm. (Ignore dashes if they appear in this address due to newspaper column margins.)

Children under 18 don’t need one. And you can still fly without a driver’s license if you have a passport, a green card or a card for a trusted traveler program.

Funeral home pricing

It’s always struck The Watchdog as unfair that some funeral homes don’t share price lists with grieving family members.

Under current federal rules, funeral homes must provide pricing to anyone who asks in person. But if you ask over the phone, you may not get an answer. Don’t bother searching online, either. Most funeral homes have little published pricing. But there are exceptions.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is considering a rule change that would require all prices to be posted online. The FTC is seeking public comments on the proposal.

Ed Mierzwinski of Federal Consumer Program alerted The Watchdog.

He says, “Funeral homes catch aggrieved consumers at their most vulnerable while they’re trying to honor the memory of their loved one. It’s an opportunity to upsell or increase prices. Consumers can’t really shop around, nor do they have the time or state of mind to visit multiple funeral homes, which is the only way to comparison shop.

“Online disclosures would help consumers compare prices more quickly and would allow customers to make sure after the fact that they weren’t overcharged.”

Catalytic converter theft

The good news is the feds broke up a crime ring stealing catalytic converters. The bad news is the operation shut down the ring in nine states, but Texas wasn’t one of them.

It’s the first such takedown by the feds on the growing crime. The culprits allegedly sold more than $100 million in stolen converters.

The converters help cut pollution, but that’s not why they are in demand. They contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum and rhodium, which have high value. They’re also easy to steal and usually have no identifying marks.

Cheaper prescription drugs

In February, The Watchdog explored for you how pharmacy benefit managers help control the price of prescription drugs.

I wrote, “PBMs negotiate with drug manufacturers and pharmacies on drug pricing. They are the middlemen between manufacturers and retailers. Although they can be credited with lowering some drug prices, they can favor high-priced drugs because their rebates are often calculated as a percentage of the listed price. PBMs receive larger rebates for more expensive drugs.”

In other industries, these payments earned as the middleman could be called illegal kickbacks. But in the early 1990s, Congress exempted drug companies’ rebates from federal anti-kickback laws. The thinking was that the payments could serve as a negotiating tool, according to Consumer Reports.

The news here is the Texas Attorney General’s office has announced its participation in a lawsuit that could lead to state regulations. State lawyers charge that PBMs cause market abuses.

Robocall update

I’d be remiss in not sharing the latest news from the feds about their losing battle against illegal robocallers.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is working to protect the sanctity of your phones.

She and her commissioners have passed new rules designed to stop foreign scammers from penetrating U.S. phone company networks.

The FCC has also threatened to block voice calls on seven phone companies whom, the FCC charges, haven’t done enough to block the illegal calls.

The feds warn compliance is not an option.

The calls in my phone come in spurts. I use nomorobo.com which announces “Spam Caller.” I’m afraid to say there’s improvement because the next day I’ll get 11 calls.

How’s your phone doing?

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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the top prize for column writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The contest judge called his winning entries “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

Read his winning columns:

* Helping the widow of Officer J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, get buried beside her late husband

* Helping a waitress who was harmed by an unscrupulous used car deale

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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