By Cristin Ross

cross@jacksonvilleprogress.com

As of Jan. 1, insurance companies are required to provide updated lists of Texas customers.

“I think this is an excellent idea,” local insurance agent Julie Duren said. “We need to enforce the no-insurance laws more, because the more drivers drive without insurance, the higher it drives the cost of insurance up.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety and state insurance officials have been working on implementing a new database to allow officers to know immediately if the driver they’ve pulled over has insurance or not.

Officials report the problem with the current system of presenting insurance cards upon being pulled over is a traditional insurance card carries the dates that policy is in effect. If a policy holder stopped paying for their policy before the card’s time frame is up, the insurers would have canceled the policy and the vehicle is uninsured.

“This will make it easier for officers to access updated information, in order to tell if that driver has insurance or not, regardless of what the card says,” said DPS Sergeant Charles Booker, of the Bryan office.

Booker said officers will determine if a motorist is insured or not only after the vehicle has been stopped for another violation.

Duren advises drivers to make sure the Vehicle Identification Number on their insurance cards matches the number on their vehicles exactly to make sure there’s no mix-up.

“They have to match perfectly,” she said,” because if they pull you over and they don’t, it will be trouble.”

If the numbers don’t match, contact your insurance agent to make the correction.

According to state reports, about 15 to 20 percent of drivers in Texas drive without valid insurance, and drivers can be ticketed $175 to $350 the first time they’re caught without a policy.

Fingerprints for teachers

A new law that went into effect on Jan. 2 requires all certified teachers to be fingerprinted by Sept. 1, 2011. The Associated Press reports the Texas Education Agency will begin selecting school districts at random and giving educators 80 days to get fingerprinted for criminal background checks.

Texas began requiring national criminal background checks for all teaching candidates in 2003, but that law did not apply to teachers who were already certified. Other school employees, such as janitors and cafeteria workers, will be required to complete the process when they are hired.



Strip club charge

Two other laws also took effect Jan. 1.

Texas will require its more than 150 strip clubs to collect a $5-per-customer levy. Proceeds help rape victims. Club owners said the fee infringes on freedom of expression, is an unconstitutional occupation tax and unfairly links their industry to sex crimes.

The Texas Entertainment Association and the owner of an Amarillo club have sued to block the fee, and a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22.



Pension divesting

State lawmakers ordered the pension funds for retired teachers and retired state employees to divest from certain international companies doing business with Sudan, which the U.S. has largely blamed for genocide since 2003.

Supporters of the Texas effort have said it could result in a $500 million divestment by the two funds, which are worth more than $120 billion combined.



The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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