New Laws in Texas, Effective this Summer
Several new laws are in effect in Texas, or will become effective on September 1. View our comprehensive list below to help ensure that you are within the state's new guidelines.
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New Texas Laws Effective in 2017
The legislature, which met for 140 days stretching from January through May, managed to pass a number of new laws that will have a notable impact for Texans, and some that may be a little more niche.
One of the most high profile new regulations concerns texting while driving, which many lawmakers have been attempting to ban for years. On Sept. 1, Texas will become the 47th state to ban the dangerous practice, with a few caveats for mobile phone use.
No more texting while driving
Beginning Sept. 1, Texas will become the 47th state to have a statewide ban on texting while driving. Motorists will not be allowed to "read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped." If cited and found guilty, the offense comes with a fine of $25 to $99 for a first offense. The law, however, allows a driver to use a phone to control a car’s stereo system and to access a mapping app.
One of the most controversial measures approved by lawmakers is a statewide ban on so-called sanctuary cities, a vague term used to describe jurisdictions that do not fully comply with requests from federal immigration authorities in all cases. The new law, known as SB4, will permit local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest.
It also would punish elected officials who do not honor every request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold a person until their status can be investigated. The law is currently facing a legal challenge from civil rights groups who say it could lead to constitutional rights violations of citizens and noncitizens alike, particularly as it comes to racial profiling by police and detention. It is set to go into effect Sept. 1, but the groups are asking a federal judge to halt its enforcement until a full review of the law can be undertaken.
People can now carry swords, machetes in public
People can carry bowie knives, swords and spears in public under a law that goes into effect Sept. 1. Current law allows people to carry knives no more than 5.5 inches long. While it will be OK to carry the larger weapons in public, the big blades are illegal to take into bars that derive most of their income from alcohol sales, along with schools, colleges, sporting events, polling places, race parks, correctional facilities, health care and nursing facilities, amusement parks and places of worship. Those under 18 years old are barred from carrying long knives in public unless they are under the supervision of a parent
Amnesty for sex assault witnesses
Under a new law that passed with broad bipartisan support, students who witness and report a sexual assault while they are involved in illegal activity, such as drinking, would be given amnesty.
Recording higher ed sex assaults
Another law aimed at tamping down on college rape will allow students and college employees to submit electronic and anonymous reports of sexual assaults to their institutions. Effective immediately.
Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies stopped operating in some major Texas cities, including Austin and Houston, last year as city officials mandated that the businesses fingerprint drivers before they are allowed to pick up customers. No more. The new law, which went into effect immediately after the governor signed it in May, bans cities from enforcing similar measures on ridesharing companies. It also calls for drivers to submit electronic receipts to passengers, provide "all necessary information to the consumer before each ride" and enforces a "zero-tolerance intoxication standard for drivers."
Cheaper to legally carry a gun
The fees for carrying a gun in Texas are cheaper under Senate Bill 16. The law lowers fees for a first-time license to carry a handgun to $40 from $140. The renewal fee is also reduced to $40 from $70. The National Rifle Association says Texas’ fees will be the lowest in the nation once the law takes effect Sept. 1.
In an attempt to counter school bullying, a new state law will make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass someone under age 18 through text messages, social media, websites or other electronic venues with the intent to cause them to harm themselves and commit suicide. The law -- which increases the penalty from a Class B misdemeanor currently -- also would allow people to obtain temporary restraining orders against social media accounts used to harass or bully children.
Voter ID changes
Don’t have a form of photo identification acceptable at the polls under Texas’ voter ID law? Lawmakers made some important changes that could help you. Effective Sept. 1, voters will be able to cast their ballots if they show some other documentation with their name and home address, such as a bank statement or utility bill, and if they also sign an affidavit attesting to having a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a valid photo ID.
Incognito lottery winners
If you’re lucky enough to win $1 million or more playing the Texas Lottery, you will be able to request that your personal information be barred from disclosure to the media. Effective Sept. 1.
Free Pre-K for fallen or injured officers’ children
Young children of peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical first responders who were seriously injured or killed in the line of duty can attend state-funded prekindergarten for free. Last year, the governor recognized 57 such officers were seriously hurt or killed. The law takes effect immediately.
Civil protections for good Samaritans
A new law offers new legal protections for people trying to rescue a child, elderly or disabled person locked in a vehicle. Under state law, “good Samaritans” are already protected from criminal charges if they break into a vehicle to rescue someone inside, but they can still face civil liability. A new law protects good Samaritans from civil lawsuits if they break in a vehicle or trailer if they have reason to belief the person is in imminent harm, has first notified law enforcement or 911, uses no more force than is necessary and remains with the individual in a safe location. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.
No more suspensions for young students
Schools can no longer suspend students below third grade. In place of both in-school or out-of-school suspensions, school districts must instead find alternative age-appropriate disciplinary plans for students that are research based and provide models for positive behavior. Exceptions include students who bring a weapon, certain drugs or alcohol to school. This law goes into effect immediately.
More time for mail-in military votes
Military personnel and their families overseas will have more time to cast their ballots by mail. The law allows those votes to be counted if they arrive no later than six days after the date of the election. If that date falls on a weekend or holiday, then the deadline is extended to the next regular business day. This law goes into effect Sept. 1.
More help spotting human trafficking
Public junior colleges and career schools and colleges offering commercial driver’s license training must include training on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking. This law is effective immediately.
Texas lawmakers passed a bill that would require the burial of fetal remains, such as from abortions or miscarriages. While patients will not be required to decide how they want the remains disposed, their doctors will have to make arrangements to store and ensure the tissue is disposed of in accordance to the law. Opponents argue the law could increase the price of women’s healthcare. Although this law goes into effect Sept. 1, the issue of fetal burial is currently on pause and tied up in the courts.
More background checks for college referees
Sport officials registered with the University Interscholastic League will have to undergo criminal background checks every three years. Currently, the officials must submit to one criminal background check. This law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Grace periods for students without lunch money
Parents will have more time to settle up their children’s school lunch debt before the cafeteria worker stops serving hot lunches. The law creates a grace period for students who show up without money to continue eating hot lunches before they are “lunch shamed” by being given cold sandwiches. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Help for relatives caring for abused children
In an effort to fix the state’s crippled foster care system, the state will now pay $350 a month to families caring for abused or neglected children they are related to. The state currently pays families $1,000 initially and $500 a year.
Be careful where you fly your drone
Unmanned aircraft like drones may be fun for an open field, but the state has banned their operation over correctional and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities and large sports venues. Exceptions include unmanned aircraft authorized by a law enforcement agency or with the permission of the operator of the sports venue. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Attacking police officers is now a hate crime
Someone who attacks a person they knew to be a law enforcement officer could be found guilty of a hate crime. The same goes if someone damages a law enforcement officers’ property. The change puts crimes against law enforcement in the same category as crimes based on a person’s race, color, disability, religion, national origin, age, gender or sexual preference.
*Information in this article was curated from Chron.com