New Laws Coming Your Way in the State of Texas
The State of Texas is known for many things, and its laws are no strangers to attention and scrutiny. In fact, the state recently enacted a slew of new laws – many of which have garnered the attention of the media and the nation at large. Better understanding some of the major players among these laws can provide you with a better feel for the direction that the state is moving in and for what you and your family need to know in terms of remaining on the right side of the law. Some of the recent laws on the books are in keeping with what you might expect, and others may be a bit more surprising.
State Voting Laws and Voter Rights
A suite of new voting laws has gone into effect in Texas, and these laws not only alter the way some people in the state will be required to register to vote but may also affect the way they are required to cast their votes. One example is that residents of Texas will no longer be allowed to use their post office boxes as their primary addresses for the purpose of voter registration. Voters will now, however, have the ability to track their mail-in ballots and to make sure they arrive where they are intended to arrive and that they are counted as they are intended to be counted at the correct polling center. Additionally, the new laws make obtaining a mail-in ballot for medical reasons more challenging. Further, there are new limitations regarding who is allowed to be at polling centers on election days, and those allowed include only the following:
A Monumental Success
According to Governor Abbott, the 87th Legislative Session was a monumental success, and many of the laws going into effect . . . will ensure a safer, freer, healthier, and more prosperous Texas. Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights, including:
House Bill 9 increases the charge for knowingly blocking an emergency vehicle or for knowingly obstructing access to a healthcare facility or hospital to a state jail felony. This law was prompted by California protestors who blocked the police from making their way into an emergency room entrance.
House Bill 103 creates an Active Shooter Alert System throughout the State of Texas, which will notify Texans who are in the vicinity of an active shooting via their phones (as activated at the request of local law enforcement).
House Bill 957 repeals the criminal offense of either possessing, transporting, manufacturing, or repairing a firearm silencer. Further, it ensures that those silencers manufactured in the state and that remain in the state are not subject to federal regulation or law. How effective this change will be – in the face of federal restrictions – however, remains to be seen.
House Bill 1280 will outlaw abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The governor prefers when Roe v. Wade is overturned, but this is likely jumping the gun.
House Bill 1500 prevents government entities from prohibiting the transportation or sale of ammunition or firearms during a declared emergency or disaster.
House Bill 1900 penalizes those cities that choose to defund their police departments.
House Bill 1925 makes camping in public spaces illegal (significantly affecting the homeless).
House Bill 1927 authorizes what has come to be known as constitutional carry, which means that Texans who are not prohibited by the law from doing so can carry a handgun without a carry license (see below).
House Bill 2366 enhances the charges associated with using laser pointers and makes it an offense to harm or obstruct the police with fireworks.
House Bill 2622 makes the state a Second Amendment Sanctuary State, which means that residents are protected from any new federal gun control regulations.
House Bill 3712 ensures that there is increased transparency and training in the police officer hiring process.
Senate Bill 8 – called the Heartbeat Bill – bans abortions from the moment the baby’s heartbeat is detectable in the womb.
Senate Bill 13 puts the kibosh on any state contracts with or investments in companies that boycott energy companies.
Senate Bill 19 puts an end to governmental entities that contract with businesses that discriminate against businesses and organizations that deal in firearms and ammunition.
Senate Bill 20 permits guests of hotels to store firearms in their rooms.
Senate Bill 550 allows residents of Texas to carry firearms in whatever kind of holsters they choose (eliminating the shoulder or belt holster requirements).
Senate Bill 576 makes it a felony to smuggle people into the state.
Senate Bill 768 increases the penalties for the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl.
All told, the new laws lean heavily toward more lenient gun laws, which is a trend that most do not find surprising.
Texas Compassionate Use Program
In an expansion of the Texas Compassionate Use Program, people with any form of cancer or who suffer from PTSD are now allowed access to low-THC cannabis for medical purposes. Prior to this expansion, compassionate use was reserved for those with conditions that include epilepsy and autism.
Fewer Barriers to SNAP
A Senate Bill has simplified the process necessary to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for both those with disabilities and for senior citizens who are on fixed incomes. Those eligible can now bypass enrollment interviews and engage in a streamlined application process.
Shield for Rideshare Companies
A House Bill requires that drivers of commercial vehicles that include rideshare drivers and delivery vehicle drivers are found liable for the accidents in the legal cases in question before their employers, such as Uber or Lyft, can be brought into the suit.
Police Body Cams
Police officers are now required to keep their body cameras on throughout all active investigations.
Ban of Excessive Force
Police officers can no longer employ chokeholds or engage in excessive force during the arrest process – unless it is deemed necessary to prevent injury to either an officer or a bystander. Any officer who witnesses a violation of this law is obligated to report it.
Critical Race Theory
Perhaps most confusingly of all, Texas passed a new law that puts restrictions on school discussions and lessons related to race and history. In fact, some educators (according to CNN) are so befuddled by the law that they are prepared to bypass activities related to civics altogether.
In short, the law requires that social studies teachers refrain from supporting one race or sex as being superior to another and also refrain from supporting the concept that someone is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive (as a function of his or her race or sex). Further, a teacher cannot be compelled to discuss a specific current event or extensively debated issue – nor can a teacher require (or provide extra credit for) political activism.
One of the most significant changes in Texas laws is the fact that Texans are now allowed to carry a gun without the need for a pesky permit, which also means there is no need for any pesky safety training. The governor is calling this constitutional carry, but some police officers beg to differ and have concerns about how this new law is going to affect their ability to keep Texans safe overall.
Prior to the New Bill
Before the new bill went into effect, Texans typically needed a license to carry a handgun (whether the gun was concealed or open carry), and obtaining such a license required all of the following:
Four to six hours of safety training
Fingerprints on file
Written exam and shooting proficiency test
Currently, anyone who is at least 21 years old and whom the law does not otherwise prohibit from owning a gun can go ahead and carry in public (with neither permit nor safety training). Those who are generally prohibited from owning a gun include anyone who has been convicted of domestic violence or anyone who has a felony conviction on his or her record.
Where the Law Applies
Texans are now permitted to carry guns wherever they are not explicitly prohibited, which includes all of the following:
On school buses
Anywhere that school activities are taking place
At sporting events, including those that are professional, between schools, or interscholastic
In court buildings or offices
At any businesses that derive more than half their income from on-premises alcohol sales (such as bars)
At nursing homes and hospitals
At polling places when either early voting or elections are happening
Depending upon the kind of location involved, violations of these prohibitions are either Class A misdemeanors or third-degree felonies.
Constitutional Carry Does Not Reach the Legal Level of Having a License to Carry
The fact is that the new so-called constitutional carry law does not have the same legal gravitas that having a license to carry does. Consider the following distinctions:
Businesses are allowed the discretion to choose whether or not to allow constitutional carry, and if they choose not to, all they are required to do is to provide notice. Businesses also have the option of allowing carry for those who have a license to carry and not allowing it for those who do not. A general sign stating No Weapons, however, means that neither is allowed.
Those who have a license to carry are afforded what is known as a savings clause, which means that if they enter an area in which guns are prohibited but leave immediately (upon being given notice), they can avoid legal penalties. The same is not true, however, for those invoking their right to constitutional carry.
While campus carry is extended to those with a license to carry, it is not for those without such a license.
Changes in Prostitution Laws
Another significant recent legal shift is that Texas now has a law on the books that elevates the crime of purchasing sex (as the person who is making the purchase) from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony, and it carries harsher penalties and fines that make the distinction clear. The law also increases the penalties employed for going into shelters (and some residential treatment facilities) and recruiting the vulnerable to engage in prostitution. While a conviction for purchasing sex used to face up to 180 days in jail – with fines of up to $2,000 – the new law goes considerably further, and a conviction comes with from 180 days to 2 years behind bars and with fines of up to $10,000. While a second conviction used to be a Class A misdemeanor that carried up to a year in prison and fines of up to $4,000, the charge is now a third-degree felony, which carries from 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Cause for Change
The reasoning behind these considerable tweaks to laws related to prostitution is that those who pay for sex are engaging in what amounts to human trafficking, which ultimately funnels victims into prostitution or into what can only be called slave labor. The law, however, does not make exceptions for those who engage in the sex industry of their own volition.