A look at some of the new state laws taking effect Sept 1

Of all the bills that the Texas Legislature passed in its 88th Legislative Session this year, 774 are taking effect Friday, September 1.

Here is a list of some of those most important bills, covering issues ranging from child gender modification and emergency government powers to state finances and the criminal justice system.

Social Issues and Education

House Bill (HB) 300: HB 300 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) was one of the first bills to pass the House during the regular session and was one of the chamber’s priority bills. The legislation will exempt a variety of personal and family care items, including “adult and children's diapers, baby wipes, bottles, menstrual products, maternity clothing, and breast milk pumping products” from state sales taxes, which is 6.25 percent of the purchase price. The bill, written to alleviate some financial burden from Texans who need those essential products, received overwhelming bipartisan support.

HB 900: HB 900, also known as the READER Act, seeks to prevent book vendors from selling “explicit” materials to schools. The bill’s author Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) has said the bill's aim is to prevent children from accessing “sexually explicit” materials in public school libraries by prohibiting library vendors from selling library material that is rated as “sexually explicit.” The bill is currently in legal limbo while Texas awaits a ruling on a lawsuit wherein the plaintiffs allege the ban will have “unconstitutional consequences.”

Senate Bill (SB) 12: The national attention surrounding SB 12 created an increased focus on its eventual implementation. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit shortly before the September 1 enactment date, citing it “threatens the livelihood and free expression of many Texans.” A judge in Houston agreed, issuing a temporary restraining order to “preserve the status quo” while a final decision can be rendered. This will block the bill from being enacted and the Office of the Attorney General can not enforce it.

SB 14: The ban on child gender modification treatments and procedures was and continues to be the one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation from the 88th Legislative Session. SB 14 is now tied up with litigation; after a Travis County district court judge issued a ruling blocking its implementation on September 1, the Office of the Attorney General filed a counter-appeal to the Texas Supreme Court (SCOTX). SCOTX filed an opinion on a separate emergency motion for temporary relief and denied that plaintiff appeal,thus allowing the bill to proceed in its enactment.

SB 15: SB 15 will require college students in Texas to compete in intercollegiate athletics according to their biological sex. The bill's House sponsor Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) said that it’s about “ensuring safety and safe competition.” Some supporters of the legislation have faced retaliation for the law, most recently during the ceremonial signing where protesters “spit” on and “assaulted” women's sports advocates as well as Texas lawmakers.

SB 17: SB 17 is the Legislature's attempt to ban diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices at Texas public universities. The bill went through significant revisions before its final passage, especially in the House, where a notable change to a provision now states that universities “may not establish or maintain” a DEI office “except as required by federal law.”

SB 18: SB 18, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is a reformulation of how tenure will be granted to public Texas university professors. The original version would have been an outright ban on tenure, but after revisions in the House Committee on Higher Education, the new law will allow tenure to be granted but only through the university’s governing board, on the recommendation of the university’s chief executive officer and university system’s chancellor.

Taxes, Spending, and Business

HB 1: The beginning of the state fiscal year on September 1 also means the start of the 2024-2025 biennium, for which the Legislature passed a $321 billion budget that includes various spending measures financed by the record treasury surplus. Some of those expenditures, made to constitutional funds that exist outside the general revenue fund, must be approved by voters in November’s ballot propositions.

HB 5: One of the House’s biggest priorities this year was to replace the now-defunct Chapter 313 property tax abatement program with something less ripe for abuse. The Legislature settled on HB 5, which re-establishes those tax breaks to companies moving operations to the state in a much more tailored fashion than its predecessor. The final product does not include renewable energy projects in its eligibility criteria and gives the governor and comptroller more say in the process, including the ability to reject proposals deemed insufficient.

HB 19: A series of new specialty trial courts will become reality on September 1 after legislation by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) passed creating the new business court system. Under HB (HB) 19, the new courts will function similarly to district courts, with one to two judges presiding over each of the 11 jurisdictional divisions within the new court system statewide. The courts will exclusively hear civil issues arising from business-related cases with the intent of relieving the commercial case backlog from the district courts. Each judge will be appointed by the governor subject to confirmation by the Senate and will serve two-year terms.

HB 4082: The City of Amarillo’s attempted debt maneuver last year drew the ire of legislators in the state Capitol, which passed two bills aimed at preventing that from occurring again — though one was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the property tax relief fallout. The one that did pass, by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), narrows the kinds of projects for which Tax Anticipation Notes may be issued. It’s a narrow tweak, but does apply to Amarillo’s maneuver for its civic center project; an appeals court affirmed a previous ruling that invalidated Amarillo’s action.

SB 490: Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) teamed up with his former staffer, state Rep. Caroline Harris (R-Round Rock), to mandate that health care providers supply their customers with an itemized bill of services. Hospitals argued that it would levy an undue cost on them to comply, but proponents argued that transparency was necessary.

SB 833: The only ESG-related bill to pass this session concerns insurance companies. Passed with minutes to spare before the final House deadline, SB 833 by Sen. Phil King (R-Weatherford) prohibits insurance companies from using ESG criteria when setting rates for customers.

Local Government and Elections

HB 17: After a group of district attorneys announced last year they would not prosecute violations of Texas’ laws against abortion, both Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick prioritized legislation cracking down on so-called rogue district attorneys. Introduced by Rep. David Cook (R-Mansfield), the law permits residents to petition to remove any district attorney or prosecuting county attorney who adopts formal or informal policies or practices that prohibit or limit the enforcement of state laws.

HB 2127: One of the biggest items of importance that passed this session that did not make either chamber’s priority list was HB 2127, a newfangled method of preempting local government regulations the state deems excessive. The bill is subject to a contentious court battle and a district judge ruled the law unconstitutional on Wednesday, but the state immediately appealed the ruling.

HB 3053: Introduced by Rep. Jay Dean (R-Longview), this law addresses a “rush to annex” that took place before a 2017 reform bill prohibited involuntary annexations in large counties. Under this law, cities must hold an election on November 7, 2023 for any ETJs that were forcibly annexed between March 3, 2015 and December 1, 2017 to determine if the residents assent to the annexation.

SB 29: Two sessions after emergency powers were first used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Legislature has begun to dial back some of those powers wielded by local governments. Under SB 29 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, local governments are now prohibited from imposing mask mandates, closing businesses or schools, or requiring vaccines in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The legislation came after several local governments challenged Gov. Greg Abbott’s authority to override local officials in disaster responses, in which the Texas Supreme Court sided with Abbott. With Abbott’s orders prohibiting local mandates now expired, the new state law codifies his orders into a permanent limitation on local governments.

SB 1750: Introduced by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), SB 1750 requires any county with a population of 3.5 million or more to return elections management to the elected county clerk and elected tax assessor-collector and voter registrar. As the only qualifying county, Harris County sued in an attempt to block the law’s implementation. The Supreme Court of Texas stayed a lower court injunction and the law will take effect as scheduled, effectively removing controversial elections administrator Clifford Tatum.

SB 1933: Also introduced by Bettencourt, SB 1933 authorizes the Texas Secretary of State’s (SOS) office to intervene in large counties with a recurring pattern of problems with elections or voter registration. With a population cutoff of four million, the law will only apply to Harris County and allows the SOS to investigate complaints and implement a temporary administrative oversight of the county’s elections or remove an administrator who fails to rectify elections mismanagement.

SB 2038: Under the 1963 Municipal Annexation Act, cities had the authority to forcibly annex nearby neighborhoods to collect sales taxes and impose regulations and restrictions on land usage without obligation to provide services or even allow residents to vote in city elections. Although lawmakers made it more difficult for cities to annex in recent sessions, Bettencourt’sSB 2038 allows residents to exit an Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) if 50 percent of registered voters or a majority of the landowners of the jurisdiction sign a petition for removal. A second pathway for ending an ETJ is for 5 percent of registered voters to sign a petition calling for an election to leave.

Public Safety and Border Security

HB 6: Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) authored a bill to increase the possible criminal penalties for the offense of fentanyl trafficking that leads to someone’s death. The legislation allows prosecutors to charge fentanyl traffickers with murder and requires medical examiners to list the manner of death as “homicide” for those who die from fentanyl poisoning. Goldman’s bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

HB 28: Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) introduced legislation to increase the maximum possible sentence for aggravated assault to life in prison if the assault results in a “permanent vegetative state” or “irreversible paralysis.” Slawson’s bill was inspired by Brandi Todd, who survived a horrific stabbing that left her paralyzed from the waist down, and Jessica Hogland, a college student who was paralyzed after being shot in the face and later died. Currently, the maximum sentence for aggravated assault even in Todd’s and Hogland’s cases is 20 years in prison.

HB 90: Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) authored legislation to provide compensation for the families of National Guardsmen and other service members killed in the line of duty. The act is named after Sgt. Bishop Evans, a 22-year-old National Guardsman deployed to Operation Lone Star who died after trying to rescue two people in the Rio Grande. Evans was from Arlington.

SB 402: Largely in response to a criminal case backlog in Harris County, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) introduced SB 402 prioritizing capital murder and murder trials. According to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the average wait between filing and trial is 44 months. There are currently 1,816 such cases awaiting trial in the county with 876 charged suspects either out on bond or fugitives from law enforcement.

SB 1004: Introduced by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), SB 1004 creates a criminal offense for removing or tampering with an ankle monitor. Gov. Greg Abbott called for the change after several people were murdered in the Dallas area allegedly by paroled suspects who had removed or interfered with monitors. Pretrial services in some local jurisdictions do not automatically report ankle-monitor violations, and often require the district attorney’s office to obtain a court order before releasing monitoring data for suspects released on bail.

Miscellaneous border bills: On the same day Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state’s buoy barrier system to deter illegal immigration, he signed into law a series of bills designed to strengthen border security. Those taking effect on Friday include compensation for property owners affected by illegal immigration, giving more authority to federal border agents to enforce state law, border security compacts with other states, training for law enforcement, and designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. Some of the bills Abbott approved took effect immediately.

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