What would America be like under a Rick Perry presidency? Well, if Rick Perry's Texas is any indication, the country could look forward to 85 mph speed limits, hog hunting from helicopters and a security check "fast-lane" for concealed handgun carriers.
The Texas governor has shot to the top of the Republican field since announcing his candidacy earlier this month, usurping fellow candidate Mitt Romney's front-runner status last week. The most recent CNN poll showed Perry beating Romney by 13 points among Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters.
Perry's Lone Star State will usher in about 700 new laws when its fiscal year begins Thursday that include everything from legalizing "noodling," a type of fishing where people catch catfish with their bare hands, to raising the maximum speed limit on some state highways to 85 mph, the fastest in the country.
"The Texas legislature is often a circus of curious legislation. You can go to any session and pull out a few things that are unusual to say the least," said Jim Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Here is a look at seven uniquely-Texas laws that emerged from the past legislative session.
|"Pork Chopper" Bill|
Beginning September 1, for about $500 an hour helicopter hunters can fly over Texas ranchland, rifle in hand and shoot as many hogs as pass through their scopes. While hunting from helicopters was previously outlawed, the "pork chopper" law makes it easier and more cost effective for land owners to fight Texas' wild hog over-population problem from the air where low-flying, fast-moving helicopters can keep up with the 400-pound animals, which can run as fast as 35 miles per hour, over terrain that is often inaccessible by vehicles.
"Just shooting them and trapping them onesie, twosie is not working very well," said Mike Morgan, president of Vertex Helicopters, a company that specializes in helicopter hog-hunting.
Morgan said the almost 4 million Texas hogs cause about $400 million in damage to crops, homes and landscaping every year. After the wild beasts tore up a $10 million Dallas golf course the state Legislature began looking for ways to seriously address the over-population problem, he said.
So far about 95 hunters have signed up for Morgan's safety course, a prerequisite for hog heli-hunting, because "flying below 50 feet at high speeds and shooting semi-automatic rifles from helicopters" is "inherently dangerous" he said.
In a rare move for the fiscal conservative, Rick Perry signed a new tax into law in 2007. But this is no ordinary sales tax. The "pole tax" collects $5 from alcohol-serving strip clubs for each customer that enters the club in order to fund sexual assault prevention programs.
So far the Sexually Oriented Business Fee Act has generated about $15 million, but the state cannot access the money because the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents most of Texas' strip clubs, sued the state for infringing on clubs' free-speech rights. The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week to uphold the law, which state lawmakers estimate will bring in about $44 million once it is fully functional.
Perry pitched a similar idea in 2004, but instead of funding assault programs, the money went to elementary schools. After garnering the nickname "t**s for tots," the governor's bill did not get much support.
|85 MPH Speed Limits|
Everyone knows everything is bigger in Texas, but as of September 1 it will be faster too. The Texas Legislature upped the state's maximum speed limit to 85 miles per hour, faster than any other state in the country.
The Texas Department of Transportation has yet to decide which stretches of rural Texas highways will be posted with the higher speed limits. The fastest roadways first have to pass safety and structural integrity tests to prove they can handle the higher speeds.
There are 520 miles of Texas highway that have a posted speed of 80 mph, the Austin-American Statesman reports. Utah is the only other state with speed limits as high as 80 mph.
While Gov. Perry may not have championed hog heli-hunting or faster speed limits, the GOP presidential front-runner played an integral role in creating a law that requires women seeking abortions to have a sonogram at least 24 hours prior to the procedure. The bill also requires doctors to describe the fetus, including details about internal organ and limb development. They must also make the image and heart beat available for the woman to see and hear.
Perry, who called the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision a "tragedy," pushed for the bill to get emergency status so it could be fast-tracked through the state Legislature and not have to wait the requisite 60 days for a vote.
The constitutionality of the bill is currently being reviewed by a federal judge, who is expected to pass down a ruling before Thursday, when the bill is set to take effect.
For Texans who are fed up with fishing poles, the Legislature has heeded their catfish catches woes. Starting Thursday fisherman will be allowed to "noodle" or wade into the muddy waters of Texas lakes and rivers and pull out catfish with their bare hands.
"No one knows why it was illegal," the bill's author Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, told Texas Monthly.
The goal of noodling, which is legal in 17 other states, is to get a catfish to bite the noodler's hand by sticking it in underwater nooks. Once bitten the fisherman wrestles the catfish out of the water.
Before the law legalizing "noodling" was passed, hand fishing, or "grabbing," was a class C misdemeanor that came with a $500 fine.
When Texans go to the polls to vote for their governor (or maybe another presidential candidate) in November 2012, they will now have to bring along a government-issued photo ID. After six years of failed attempts, Perry fast-tracked the voter ID bill this past legislative session. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the House, the bill passed without any Democrat support.
It requires voters to show photo identification, such as such as state photo ID, military ID, passport or concealed handgun license, along with their voter registration card before they can vote. Texas is one of six states that require photo ID, according to the Texas Tribune.
|Handgun 'Fast Lane'|
Texans can not only carry handguns into the state Capitol building, but they can skip the security lines as well. After the state Capitol installed metal detectors in May 2010, a "fast lane" was created for concealed handgun license holders so they would not have to remove, or un-conceal, their weapons in order to enter the state house.
Perry was adamantly opposed to installing the Capitol's metal detectors, which were put in after a gunman fired shots from the Capitol's south steps in January 2010.
"I'm always up for looking at new ways to protect our citizens, but the last thing I want is for the Texas Capitol to turn into DFW Airport," Perry said.
The Texas governor is known to pack a .380 Ruger pistol, a fact that became well-known here after Perry shot and killed a coyote while jogging with his dog in February 2010. Perry claimed the coyote was threatening his Labrador retriever.