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New Texas Laws

Taking Effect September 1st, 2017

This year Texas lawmakers passed hundreds of bills and killed many more during the 140-day legislative session. The 85th legislative session included everything from a multi-billion-dollar state budget to laws covering which bathrooms transgender Texans can relieve themselves in.   Here are some of the bills that made it through the 85th legislative session and will go into effect September 1, 2017 (as well as some that were heavily discussed).

State Budget

Although it took until the final weekend of the session, lawmakers finally approved a $216.8 billion, two-year budget.  The budget bill is the only bill they must pass. Unfortunately, although they must pass it, the Governor can still veto line items, thereby making it look nothing even close to the budget that was originally passed.

Texting and Driving

After a decade of trying, lawmakers passed a statewide ban on texting while driving. House Bill 62 would prohibit drivers from texting while their vehicle is moving and increase penalties for violators who hurt or kill someone. Both chambers passed a texting while driving ban in 2011.  Unfortunately, then current Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill because it he said it infringed on personal liberties.

Ride-Hailing

A bill creating statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies, voiding existing local regulations like those in Austin that drove out Uber and Lyft was signed by the Governor. State lawmakers created rules for ride-hailing companies that were less restrictive than those in some cities.

Guns

The Governor did sign a bill that will cut the cost of a gun license by $100, which will give Texas one of the lowest gun license fees in the country. Opponents are concerned that this will allow for more accessibility and more potential tragedies. However, a bill that would have let Texans carry handguns without a license died.

Community Policing

Responding to growing tensions between police and the public nationwide, the Legislature passed the Sandra Bland Act.  This law was named after an African-American woman who died in a Waller County jail in 2015 after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. Originally this bill was intended to be a more of an overhaul of the overall criminal justice processes. The final version of the law really only addresses treatment of the mentally ill who come in contact with law enforcement and the restrictions on the law enforcement officers during that contact. It does require more mental health training for those in correctional facilities and will require county jails to, at a minimum, maintain mental health professionals on call at all time

 “Sanctuary Cities”

After making multiple attempts since 2011, the Legislature passed a law banning so-called sanctuary cities, local governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws. Opponents of the law, say it will serve to promote “racial profiling” and thus tear apart families. Those who support it say it will help to keep criminals off the streets. There have already been several law suits brought by cities, counties and advocacy groups to block the law.

LGBT Rights (a.k.a. “The Bathroom Bill”)

One of the many areas that got the most attention by Legislators was who should use which bathroom in Texas. They still have failed to pass any proposals that would restrict where transgender Texans relieve themselves or change clothes. Lawmakers made very little progress that affected the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans. All of the bills that had been filled over the past two years to repeal unconstitutional laws outlawing sodomy and to add gender identity to the state’s hate crime laws have still made no progress.

Abortion

There is still a bill that includes various anti-abortion measures is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The proposed bill requires 1) fetal tissue from abortions or miscarriages to be buried and/or cremated and 2) prohibits both “dismemberment” and “partial-birth” abortions. Three other anti-abortion priorities failed to make it out of the Legislator.

Higher Education

2017 had already been seen as the possible beginning of the end for much funding for Texas universities. Proposed bills would’ve slashed budgets, frozen tuition, ended a mandatory financial aid program as well as curtailed automatic admission for top students. While still other recommendations included restricting free tuition for veterans and their children.

Fortunately, the “end of the beginning” was never realized. The budget that was passed by the Legislature basically kept the spending for Texas universities the same as it had been — in some cases, schools saw state funding increase, while proposed freezes on tuition were halted and top students will continue to be automatically accepted at state universities.

Mental Health

Improving mental health care in Texas was one of the priorities for this session for one of the lawmakers. Two of the bills were introduced. One of the measures will require health insurance providers to offer the same coverage and benefits for mental health and substance abuse conditions as for medical and surgical procedures. The other establishes a grant program to support community mental health programs.