New laws on guns, education, abortion and more will impact Texans


More than 600 new laws take effect Sept. 1 in Texas, while some others have already been enacted. The list of laws going on the books Wednesday include allowing people to carry handguns without a permit or training, requiring police to keep their body cameras on during investigations, fortifying the state’s power grid and extending hours for alcohol sales on Sundays.

And the Texas Legislature isn’t done yet, as redistricting and other issues are likely to be considered later in at least one more special session. The 87th Legislature already has completed its 140-day biennial regular session and one special session. The current second overtime session must end no later than Sunday.
 
Constitutional carry

Beginning Wednesday, Texans aged 21 and over can legally carry a handgun in public without a license or training. Most attention has been over how the new law eliminated the requirement to obtain a license to carry for anyone not prohibited by other state and federal laws from possessing a gun. But other provisions include making it a crime to carry a firearm while intoxicated and allowing for records to be expunged for people previously convicted of illegally carrying a weapon before Sept. 1. It also allows peace officers to disarm a citizen at any time if they believe it’s necessary to protect that person, officers or other individuals.

Other new gun laws allow guests to store firearms in their hotel rooms, legalize possession and manufacturing of firearm silencers and make Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary state by shielding residents from new federal firearms restrictions.

Elections

The focal point of much of the action (and inaction) in Austin has been on Republican-backed elections legislation that GOP leaders say is needed for greater security and to fight fraud that Democrats say doesn’t exist. Final passage looms now that a conference committee has worked out the differences between House and Senate versions. After that, it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. It bans 24-hour and drive-through voting popular with communities of color, extends protections to poll watchers and adds new requirements for assistants who help disabled Texans cast their ballots.

But some elections bills already passed and go into effect Wednesday, including one prohibiting voters from registering using a post office box as their address. Another allows the Secretary of State to deny voter registrars funds if they fail to remove certain individuals from the rolls.

Abortion restrictions

The new “Heartbeat Bill” outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected — roughly six weeks into pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, at least 85% of abortions in Texas are performed after six weeks. The legislation is already facing legal challenges and opponents hope to have courts put it on hold and ultimately overturn it. Additional abortion restrictions are being sought in the second special legislative session that must end by Sunday. Also going into effect is a “trigger law” that would outlaw abortions in the state in 30 days if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 case from Texas that legalized abortion nationwide.

Education

Heated debate over “critical race theory” continues in the current special session, long after lawmakers gave final passage to a bill taking effect Sept. 1 that bars certain concepts related to race and racism from being discussed in Texas classrooms. Conservatives pushed that legislation through over passionate objections from educators who say the new law will make it harder for them to teach about America’s true past and present. The law faces likely legal challenges. Republicans are undeterred and seek additional legislation that would go farther to “abolish” the theory in schools. Several other states have passed similar legislation, sparking lawsuits.

Policing

“Bo’s Law,” also known as the “Botham Jean Act,” requires police officers to keep their body cameras activated through the full course of investigations they are involved in. It was named for a high-profile 2018 Dallas case in which Jean, a Black man, was shot and killed in his apartment by off-duty officer Amber Guyger, who mistook him for a burglar.

Among other new laws on policing is a prohibition of peace officers intentionally using chokeholds, and another that increases penalties for people convicted of manufacturing or delivering fentanyl. Also passed were bills raising penalties for obstructing roadways for street racing or reckless driving exhibitions and allowing seizure and civil asset forfeiture of vehicles used in street racing offenses. Punishment also is being boosted for protesters who block roadways and impede emergency vehicles.

Electricity supply

Lawmakers scrambled to craft legislation to protect consumers and improve electricity reliability in the wake of blackouts and billing debacles stemming from February’s winter storm. Laws going into effect Wednesday require a public, annual audit of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and ban the sale of wholesale indexed power plans to residential customers. Related laws that went into effect immediately earlier this year mandate changes to ERCOT’s board and governance, and require the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to impose new weatherization rules to improve service reliability in severe weather. Additional structural changes to the PUC also were required.

Alcohol sales

One new law going into effect this week that’s popular with many consumers will extend weekend beer and wine sales. Until now, Texans couldn’t legally buy beer and wine until noon on Sundays, but now they’ll be able to buy it from 10 a.m. until midnight. The sale of liquor is still prohibited in stores on Sundays. Also popular is a law allowing restaurants to sell alcohol to-go permanently after the state allowed it temporarily during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. That law went into effect immediately in May when Abbott signed it.

COVID-19

While Abbott dealt extensively with the state’s response to the coronavirus through executive orders, the Legislature did take some action, too. One new law prohibits state agencies or officials from issuing orders that “close or have the effect of closing places of worship.” Another bans any business in Texas from requiring so-called “vaccine passports” or any vaccine information.

Medical marijuana

The state’s medical marijuana program is expanding to include patients who suffer from all forms of post traumatic stress disorder or cancer, if prescribed by a doctor. Proponents failed to broaden the program more to include people who suffer from chronic pain.

Star-Spangled Banner Protection Act

Another new law is the “Star-Spangled Banner Protection Act,” which requires any professional sports team with contracts with state government to play the national anthem before the beginning of every game. It became a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban chose to stop having the anthem played for the team’s games early in this year’s season. Following Cuban’s move, which initially went largely unnoticed by the public, the NBA issued a statement telling the public that the anthem would be played before all games, and the Mavericks complied.

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