666 new Texas laws went into effect Sept. 1; here are some highlights
Six hundred and sixty-six new Texas laws went into effect Wednesday. Debated, passed and signed during the 87th Texas Legislature, these laws include changes to public safety, health care and K-12 education.
Not every bill signed into law during the regular session went into effect Wednesday. Some bills went into effect as soon as they were signed. For example, Senate Bill 968, which banned “vaccine passports” in Texas, became law when Gov. Greg Abbott signed it in June. Other bills, like one that revises eminent domain negotiations between landowners and companies, will become law on Jan. 1, 2022.
The legislature is currently in its second special session, which Abbott primarily called to advance the GOP-backed voting restrictions bill. Lawmakers are discussing other topics, including changes to the bail system and limits on transgender Texans from competing on school sports teams. At least one more special session will be called this fall to address redistricting.
But in the meantime, here’s a list of the new laws you should know:
• Texas’ 2022-2023 budget: SB 1 provides nearly $250 billion for Texas, with notable funds going toward public higher education. Abbott line-item vetoed the part of the budget that funds the Texas Legislature and the people who staff it — but lawmakers may restore funding during this summer’s second special session.
• Permitless carry: House Bill 1927 allows Texans ages 21 and older to carry handguns without training or a license as long as they are not legally prevented from doing so.
• Abortion restrictions: SB 8 prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. In lieu of government enforcement, private individuals can sue abortion providers or people who assist abortion after an ultrasound can detect what lawmakers defined as a fetal heartbeat. Embryos at this developmental stage don’t possess a heart. Medical and legal experts say the sound Republican lawmakers are referring to is the motion of electrical pulses stimulating muscle cells in a tube that will eventually become part of the heart. Abortion providers are suing to block the law. Additionally, HB 1280 would outlaw abortion in Texas 30 days after any potential U.S. Supreme Court decision overturns Roe v. Wade.
• Medical marijuana expansion: People with any form of cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder now have access to low-THC cannabis for medical purposes. HB 1535 is an expansion of the Texas Compassionate Use Program, which allows people with conditions such as epilepsy and autism to access medical marijuana.
• Reducing barriers to SNAP: SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for seniors and disabled people on fixed incomes. Eligible individuals can forgo enrollment interviews and have a shortened application process.
• Funding the “1836 Project”: HB 2497 establishes an “1836 Project” committee to produce patriotic Texas history materials, which will be distributed through channels such as when people receive driver’s licenses. The initiative’s name mirrors the “1619 Project,” a New York Times publication examining U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved people.
• Social studies curriculum changes: HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class. The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and bans teaching of the “1619 Project.”
• “Star Spangled Banner Protection Act”: Professional sports teams with state funding are required to play the national anthem before games under SB 4.
• Reducing pre-K class sizes: Prekindergarten classes are now capped at 22 students — the same maximum class size of other elementary school grades — under SB 2081.
• New state employee retirement accounts: SB 321 enrolls new state workers hired after Sept. 1, 2022, in a cash-balance plan, which deposits a percentage of a worker’s annual compensation in retirement accounts and is similar to a 401(k) retirement account. Currently, employees have defined-benefit retirement accounts based on employment position and previous salaries.
• Shielding companies from car crash liability: HB 19 requires drivers of commercial vehicles — including Ubers, Lyfts and delivery trucks — to be found liable in court for causing a car crash resulting in injury or death before a case can be brought against their employer.
• Active shooter alert system: HB 103 creates the Texas Active Shooter Alert System, which will notify Texans in the vicinity of an active shooting scene through their phones. The system can be activated by request of local law enforcement.
• Police body cameras: HB 929 requires police officers to keep body cameras on during the entirety of active investigations. The law is named after Botham Jean, who was fatally shot in his apartment while eating ice cream by a Dallas police officer in 2018.
• Banning unnecessary police chokeholds: Police officers are now prohibited from using chokeholds or excessive force during arrests unless necessary to prevent officer or bystander injury under SB 69. Officers who witness violations are required to report the incident.
• Online ballot tracking system: HB 1382 creates an online tracking system for mail-in ballots and applications for mail-in ballots. The system will be run by the Texas Secretary of State.
• Punishing cities who cut police budgets: If municipalities with a population of more than 250,000 reduce their police budget, HB 1900 allows the state to financially punish the cities by reducing sales tax revenues and preventing increases in property taxes.
• Felony punishment for blocking emergency vehicles: HB 9 will make blocking access to a hospital or an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens on a state jail felony. The bill was passed as a response to protesters being arrested for blocking ambulances during Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
• Criminalizing homeless camping: HB 1925 makes camping in unapproved public places a misdemeanor crime that carries a fine of up to $500. Cities cannot opt out of the ban.