Legal differences between CA and TX?
April 7, 2013 10:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving from Berkeley, CA to Houston, TX next week, I'm wondering if there are any significant differences in the legal regime I should be aware of.

I don't have any particular concerns, but it occurs to me that some stuff might be illegal there that is legal here, and the burden is on me to know about it. Also, maybe some stuff I'm used to won't be possible there.

Some possible differences off the top of my head:
1.) Can you buy booze on sundays? In grocery stores?
2.) Can you be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt?
3.) Is there excise tax on vehicles?
4.) Do vehicles need to be inspected every year? Bi-annually?

I mean, obviously I can look up those things, but is there anything I might not be thinking about that's different? Anyone who has made the move, any big legal culture shocks? Anything borderline irresponsible that I'm allowed to do now?
posted by 0x006DB0 to Law & Government (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. No.

People speed like crazy in Houston but you can still get busted for it. If you like to smoke pot do yourself a favor and cultivate an aura of paranoid schizophrenia when in possession, because they will destroy you and everything you love for any drug related infractions.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:25 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Liquor stores are closed Sunday. You can buy beer and wine Sundays. You have to buy wine and beer before midnight all days. Liquor stores close at nine.

I've been hit with a no seat belt ticket for having the shoulder strap behind me. The cop was at the light and directing folks to the parking lot where her partner was writing tickets. Cops don't have a strong incentive to fight tickets, so always show up to contest. Half the time your officer won't show and it will be dismissed out of hand, half the time the judge will give you a slightly lower fee.
posted by politikitty at 11:20 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

People can shoot in defence of property. Be careful about cutting across people's land.
"A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect his property to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, theft during the nighttime or criminal mischief during the nighttime, and he reasonably believes that the property cannot be protected by any other means."

"A person is justified in using deadly force against another to pervent the other who is fleeing after committing burglary, robbery, or theft during the nighttime, from escaping with the property and he reasonable believes that the property cannot be recovered by any other means; or, the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the property would expose him or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury. (Nighttime is defined as the period 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise.)"
posted by jaduncan at 2:25 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gun laws (both, purchasing and carrying)
posted by Kruger5 at 4:04 AM on April 8, 2013

In Texas, I believe you're allowed to ride in the back of a pickup truck if you're over 18, including on the highway. (I was told bit about the highway while I was in Texas in 2007 and can't find anything to contradict that.) This is almost certainly a very bad idea.
posted by hoyland at 4:36 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think what jaduncan is getting at is that Texas has a stand-your-ground law. California has a castle law. The difference? In California you can use force to protect yourself from an intruder as long as you are in your home. In Texas, you don't have to be in your home, only in a place where you are allowed to be. I've lived in Houston for 42 years and I've never seen someone put this into action. If you're interested in more details, the wiki article for Castle Doctrine outlines the laws in US states, England, Wales, Israel, Italy, and Australia. It's not an uncommon law.

State income tax is different. Mainly, we don't have it. Instead, everything is paid for by sales tax (8.25 percent in Houston) and fees. For example, your car will have 2 stickers on it -- one for state inspection to make sure it is road-worthy and not polluting, and the other for registration which includes a fee that pays for roads and bridges (about $10 for the roads and bridges, and about $55 for the car registration). You get both of these annually, and you must have proof of liability insurance to get them. But if you take Beltway 8 to work, you are getting on the Sam Houston tollway. This is a toll road, and it costs $1.25 per segment. (You can get another sticker for your windshield that is tied to an account, so that you don't have to stop at the toll booths. This will work for all our toll roads.)

Alcohol is different, and it is a combination of federal, state, and county laws. A few counties are dry, or only sell alcohol to people to have bought a club card or something but you are unlikely to see that unless you are traveling around far outside Houston. The county that Houston is in, and all the surrounding counties, all have the same laws. Grocery stores sell beer and wine. The harder stuff is at the liquor stores only (and liquor stores sell beer and wine in addition to liquor). You can purchase alcohol from in liquor stores from 10 AM to 9 PM Monday - Saturday. You can purchase beer and wine in grocery stores until midnight, but also on Sunday after noon.

Car dealerships must be closed on either Saturday or Sunday. Everything else is allowed to be open 24/7.

The HR rules are really different. I don't know a lot about the specific differences, but I do know that most companies have an HR handbook for US employees not in California, and another one just for California employees. So, whatever that's about.

Our minimum wage is different, but our cost of living is substantially cheaper. Ours is the same as the Federal minimum wage, not higher.

We basically do not do alimony, ever.

California has more government employees, more people receiving public assistance, and fewer teachers. So, the laws that govern how public dollars are spent is different.

The drug war is still on in Texas. No medical marijuana yet.

You can get your groceries in paper or plastic bags, and those are no extra charge. Or you can bring your own -- nobody cares if you do.

We're trying pretty hard to get people off their phones while driving. It's illegal to use a phone (call or text) in a school zone.

You don't have to take a driving test to get a Texas drivers license if you hold a valid California license, but there's a book (.pdf) that may help you.

In general, our laws have a hands-off approach to business and support individual responsibility.
posted by Houstonian at 5:10 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Texas has some peculiarities about real estate laws which might matter if you buy a house. The one I remember is that in California, a squatter can make a legal claim on a house after only five years. In Texas, you have to live there openly for thirty years before you can try to get the deed in your name. Most states are somewhere in between those extremes (Texas has the longest time in that regard of any state). My recollection is that bias with regards to real estate has other impacts, also often an "only in Texas" situation. Iirc, they were also the only state where you could not take out a second mortgage.

So if you buy a house, ask a lot of questions. The independent "get off my property"/pro property-owner laws there are different from real estate laws in other states.
posted by Michele in California at 5:21 AM on April 8, 2013

OH, right, real estate! Yes, our laws are very different. For one, in Houston we don't have zoning. To balance that out, we have very strong homeowners associations (HOAs). Another big one are the Texas homestead laws. Your homestead (your primary home) is very protected here. Creditors (minus mortgage holders and tax authorities like the school districts) cannot take your home if you default on debt. Because of this, it's a little more difficult to get multiple mortgages on your homestead (primary residence).
posted by Houstonian at 5:44 AM on April 8, 2013

Hi, I moved from California to Texas, and overall the laws are pretty similar - you do have to register and inspect your car every year. You can't buy hard alcohol at the grocery store but you can buy beer and wine in most counties. Bars generally close around 2am but are open on Sundays. Liquor stores generally aren't open on Sundays so if you want hard alcohol buy it on Saturday or Monday. In general, liquor prices in stores will be higher in Texas than CA but drink prices at bars are a little lower. Liquor prices are higher at small neighborhood liquor stores but lower at big box retailers like Costco or Specs (do they have Specs in Houston?).

I was going to say that you won't have to get your car smog-tested but apparently in the counties containing Houston and Dallas you DO have to get an emissions check. I think in some respects administrative laws like these are much more local in Texas because our state legislature only meets for a few months every two years. For example, in San Antonio it is illegal to text and drive, but it is not a state-wide law.

Most Texas cities have a frontage road system along highways. If you are on the frontage road and someone is coming off the highway offramp, you have to yield to them even in the absence of a yield sign. This one tripped me up a couple times. In general, roads are not as well-signed as in California but this may be better in more progressive cities like Houston.

Anything borderline irresponsible that I'm allowed to do now?

You can move to the country and open a poorly-regulated exotic or domestic animal preserve. If hunting is your thing, or you think it might be, I'd look into the hunting laws here - I'm not a hunter but my friend is, and from what he's told me the laws here are very different from where I grew up. There are very few state or national parks so that makes up a large part of the difference - most hunting seems to be done on private land where you pay the ranch owner. This includes those exotic animal preserves I mentioned before.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 AM on April 8, 2013

I thought of another one, and this must be tricky because I see multiple people getting tickets every day (but probably they are cheaters, not confused newly-arrived people). Our main highways have HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes. In the morning, they are for inbound traffic and in the evenings they are for outbound traffic -- that part is not confusing, because you literally cannot get on in the wrong direction. What's confusing is who can drive in those lanes. You can drive if you are a HOV (a car with 2 or 3 people depending on the time, or a motorcycle with 1 person). As you get closer to the city, they are also opened up as a toll road. So, if you are HOV or if you have a tollroad sticker on your car. The HOV people use the left lane, the toll people use the right lane. Some people seem to get on the HOV when they do not have enough people nor a sticker. This gets a ticket, and they really patrol for it.
posted by Houstonian at 6:05 AM on April 8, 2013

Houston does have specs. Do we have any notable open container law traps?

You probably need a license to hunt. And fish. Concealed carry may be legal, not sure.

If you are driving through a small ****ty town, the entire area is probably a speed trap.

This is not legal advice, but in my experience, a yield sign means: Slow down, look for something you need to stop for. if there is nothing coming, keep going. I do not think I have ever seen anybody come to a complete stop at a yield sign w/o oncoming traffic.... in Houston. In Corpus Christi, it seems much more common to come to a dead stop at a yield sign, look around for a few minutes, then go.

Also not legal advice, but the onramp is for getting to the posted freeway speed. If you hit the freeway going 50, you're too slow. Also, 90% of people are going to be driving at or near the posted limit. Go 5 miles slower than that and you are holding up traffic, and a horrible human being.

Dont change lanes in an intersection. Dont park too close to a fire hydrant OR the crosswalk (even if its not marked as such, apparently) Dont park more than a foot from the curb, and park in the direction traffic is going.
posted by Jacen at 6:07 AM on April 8, 2013

In case you are going to be renting, there are going to be drastically fewer protections for renters compared to what you are used to in Berkeley. It is probably worth hiring a local attorney to look over a lease before you sign it.
posted by rockindata at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're renting, make sure they're using one of the standard real estate leases from the HAR (Houston Area Realtors) and not some oddball one that they cooked up. If the latter, have a lawyer look it over. If the former, just sign it, you're not gonna get to negotiate. But if you have pets and are trying to rent in Houston, you're screwed. Sorry.

Do rent until you know the areas. Don't try just to move into an area because it's close to work or something. You'll end up in a bad neighborhood. The differences in neighborhoods are subtle and you won't be able to spot them until you've been around a bit. Be careful of HOAs regardless of if you're renting or buying. However, most services (garbage, etc.) are provided by the HOA or the village that you're in. A village is kind of a subset of an area of Houston and it basically is a sort of HOA with a private police force. Note that unless you're renting an apartment, it's probably best to retain the services of a realtor; craigslist is not a good place to find apartments to rent.

And that brings up a good point. The city's government is weak and everything is very fragmented. Depending on which neighborhood you're in, police service may be provided by a village police department, constable, county sheriff, or HPD. This varies on a block by block basis. If you call 911, they need to know EXACTLY where you are and will have to transfer you a couple of times. If you're on a freeway and reporting a drunk driver, and they merge onto a different freeway or you drive for a couple of miles, you're probably in a different jurisdiction.

Which brings up yet another point: This city is totally screwed where crime is concerned. There are simply places that, if you are a certain color, you do not go. Period, end of story. They're too numerous to make a list of, but don't be afraid to make U-turns if you get that tingly feeling in your spine. Watch carefully for broken window syndrome. Even the heavily hispanic areas of town with blue collar working folks have well-tended fences and landscaping facing the street. If you get into an area that doesn't, beware.

Spec's is the main liquor store. It actually started in Houston; the downtown location is great. They have a very wide selection of beer, wine, and other booze. The downtown store offers tastings. Another fun thing to do is to go drink at some of the breweries that offer 'tours' and 'samples' of their beers; Karbach being the main one. You get a glass and a certain number of tokens, there's a food truck out back, and it's really a wonderful experience sitting out and having beer with friends. Many people bring games and dogs.
posted by SpecialK at 10:06 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My understanding is the lack of zoning laws is peculiar to Houston. I think other Texas cities have zoning laws.
posted by Michele in California at 10:49 AM on April 8, 2013

Marital property laws: Both Texas and California are community property states. In Texas, the income on separate property is community property unless the spouses agree otherwise. My recollection is that California was different in this respect. Also, I understand that California has some quasi-community property laws that may apply to cohabiting but unmarried couples. Texas has none, however, Texas does permit common law marriage. So, don't say you are married unless you want to be! Obviously, no gay marriage in Texas (its in the state constitution), so same sex couples have NO rights with respect to each other. If you want to give your partner (same sex or no) some right to your property, to make medical decisions on your behalf, etc., you must have a properly executed legal document.

Probate: The California laws for the probate of Wills and Estates have a reputation for being among the most burdensome in the U.S. For that reason, many California residents have living trusts which hold their property during their lives and allow them to avoid probate on their deaths. Texas probate is pretty easy, so most people just have Wills.
posted by SugarFreeGum at 11:38 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the commute home today I thought of another difference - California has an "implied consent" law when it comes to field sobriety tests for DUIs. Texas does not have this law so police must legally get a warrant from a judge to do a blood draw if you refuse a breathalyzer. It is a common tactic for drivers to refuse the field sobriety test and hope to sober up before a warrant can be granted and blood can be drawn. The state has countered this with "no refusal weekends" which basically means they have judges and a mobile blood-draw units on call. Some cities mobilize every weekend, and some cities take what seems to be the logical move and declare every day to be a no-refusal day. The legality of no-resfusal warrants is in question.

Texas has none, however, Texas does permit common law marriage. So, don't say you are married unless you want to be!

My understanding is that common law opposite-sex marriages were drastically weakened recently as part of the bills against same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships. If the OP is interested in common-law marriages, they should do some research first.
posted by muddgirl at 4:12 PM on April 8, 2013

Bowie knives are illegal here in Texas. BOWIE KNIVES. For crying out loud.
posted by Addlepated at 7:53 PM on April 8, 2013

Response by poster: This is all very interesting stuff guys. Some of it I was aware of others are a surprise (no car dealerships open on weekends? What the hell is the point of that?) Thanks so much!

Not that it matters, because this thread will hopefully be useful for other transplants who have a different profile, but if y'all are curious, I'm already married (though maybe once I get to Texas I can get a divorce - the sound of this "no alimony" thing is pretty darn tempting) and I'm actually quite boring - don't smoke, do any drugs, I very rarely drink to the point of being buzzed. I generally wear my seatbelts, but I do often speed (though I've been trying to cut back on it). I'm also originally from Massachusetts and New York, so I'm familiar with a few other legal regimes as well.

I remember going to this big get together in New York and this guy from Colorado had brought a bunch of weed with him, and he was talking on his cellular phone and got pulled over because he forgot about the new cell phone ban.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2013

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