Friday, Sept. 1st marks the day all new Texas legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott go into effect.
Here is a list of all the new laws:
- Texting while driving ban - Texas becomes the 47th state in the U.S. to institute a ban on texting while driving. The first offense can draw a fine between $25 and $99. Exemptions apply for device used for mapping and stereo system control. The city of El Paso already has a texting while driving ban. This new legislation carries over into El Paso County.
- Open-carrying swords and machetes - Blades more than 5.5 inches in length are being permitted for open-carry in public places. 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 sexual assault witnesses - Strengthening the fight against on-campus rapes, lawmakers passed a law granting amnesty to students who witness or report a sexual assault while also engaged in another illegal activity like public intoxication.
- Changes for ride-share drivers - This law went into effect immediately after the governor signed it in May. 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. This 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."
- Handgun license fees lowered - Concealed firearms owners in Texas will enjoy having the lowest license fees in the U.S. Lawmakers passed an amendment that will change the license fee for new users from $140 to $40. Renewals drop from $70 to $40. The National Rifle Association says Texas' fees will be the lowest in the nation. On August 1, campus carry became legal on public community college campuses.
- David's Law - 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.
- No more straight-ticket voting - Voters will no longer be allowed to cast their ballot for an entire slate of Republican or Democratic candidates after the legislature outlawed what's known as straight-ticket voting in elections. People will now have to vote for each candidate individually as they work their way down the ballot.
- More time for mail-in military voting - 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.
- Anonymity of lotto winners - There's an added safeguard for new millionaires. A new law is allowing lotto winners of at least $1 million the option to conceal their identities to media outlets.
- Good Samaritans and civil liability - If you believe a person in a vehicle is in distress and you break a window to reach him or her, you can't be sued for the damage caused to the automobile. The state already exempts criminal charges for "good Samaritans" in these cases.
- Lunch-shaming - In an effort to curb the practice of lunch-shaming in schools, a new law allows a grace period for parents of students who do not provide a lunch payment. In the interim, applicable students will be given a cold sandwich instead of a hot meal.
- Second chances for nonviolent offenders - People convicted of one low-level offense — which may include a DWI with a blood alcohol level under 0.14 or nonviolent Class C misdemeanors — will be allowed to request an order of nondisclosure from a court after they pay restitution and serve their sentence. Generally, such an order would seal their criminal records from public view, but the new law will allow law enforcement agencies and a few others to view the records when necessary. A DWI offender would not qualify for the nondisclosure option if they had a prior DWI conviction, had a blood alcohol level above 0.14, have not fully paid court fines or had struck a pedestrian or a vehicle with someone inside. They also must complete a six-month ignition interlock program or wait five years after finishing their conviction term.
- Fetal remains - 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.
- Drones no-fly zones - Remote-controlled, unmanned aircraft are now banned over correctional and immigration detention centers. Chron says this also applies to large sports venues.
- Background checks for refs - 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.
- 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.
- Cop killing is 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.
- Alternative path to a diploma - High school seniors who fail one or two end-of-course exams required for graduation could get their diploma, anyway. Lawmakers extended a 2015 law that allows individual graduation committees to weigh whether the student should graduate based on factors like grades in relevant subjects, attendance and other measures. The Legislature voted to give the program a two-year pass by letting it continue until Sept. 1, 2019.
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