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Sept. 1 sees new laws go into effect

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The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN — More than 770 new laws passed by the Texas Legislature this year went into effect Friday, impacting everything from health care and education to public safety.

Sept. 1 is the traditional start day for laws passed during a regular legislative session, though some can have their effective date delayed in order to be fully implemented and bills passed by a two-thirds margin can go into effect immediately.

Here’s a look at some of the big ones:

•New school safety requirements: House Bill 3 requires an armed officer at every school campus in Texas and mental health training for school staff that interact with children. The armed person can be either a peace officer, a school resource officer, a school marshal or a school district employee, according to the law. School districts that can’t meet this requirement can claim a “good cause exception” but must find an alternative plan.

The law, passed in the first legislative session after the school shooting in Uvalde, also gives the Texas Education Agency more authority over school districts to establish robust active-shooter protocols. Those that fail to meet the agency’s standards could be put under the state’s supervision.

The state will give each school district $15,000 per campus and $10 per student, a figure that many school officials say isn’t enough. In addition, lawmakers have allocated $1.1 billion to the TEA to administer school safety grants to the state’s more than 1,000 school districts.

•Limiting the power of big cities: House Bill 2127 prevents cities and counties from enacting local laws that go further than what’s allowed under broad areas of state law. The Republican-backed law is the culmination of a years-long effort to rein in progressive policies in the state’s bluer urban areas.

Supporters say the law is needed to provide businesses with relief from a growing patchwork of local regulations. Critics say it kneecaps local officials’ ability to govern and does away with much-needed local ordinances like mandatory water breaks for construction workers.

Cities have already sued to block it, and a Travis County judge has found it to be unconstitutional. But the law was still allowed to go into effect. Its full impact — what it allows cities to do and what it blocks — will be decided in the courts in the coming months and years.

•Redefining fentanyl deaths: House Bill 6 classifies overdoses from fentanyl as “poisonings,” which means any Texan who provides someone with a fatal overdose of the opioid could face a murder charge. The measure is part of a series of new laws aimed at the opioid crisis in the state, many of which seek to get tough on people who are selling or illegally importing fentanyl.

•Addressing the power grid: House Bill 1500 changes aspects of how electricity can be bought and sold on the state’s main power grid, with an aim toward getting more on-demand power such as natural gas-fueled power plants built.

Changes include creating a financial tool, known as an ancillary service, that will pay power generators that can produce power within two hours and run for at least four hours to help smooth out supply during high-demand times; requiring new power producers that connect to the grid starting in 2027 to be prepared to produce a set amount of power during times of high demand; and requiring companies to pick up the tab for building new transmission lines that connect power generators to the grid if costs go above a certain amount.

•Targeting “rogue” district attorneys: House Bill 17 allows the courts to remove district attorneys for official misconduct if they choose not to pursue certain types of crimes. The Republican priority legislation was pushed as a way to rein in progressive prosecutors who had spoken out against pursuing abortion-related or election crimes. The law will also likely restart marijuana prosecutions in several counties.

•Restricting trans athletes in college sports: Senate Bill 15 prohibits transgender athletes from competing on college teams that match their gender identity. The law extends an existing restriction on K-12 athletes that requires students to play on a team that matches their sex assigned at birth.

•Regulating sexually explicit performances: Senate Bill 12 aims to restrict certain drag shows and other performances from being shown in front of children. But a federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked it from being enforced, saying it likely violates the First Amendment.

A final judgement is expected from the judge in the coming weeks. Texas is likely to appeal the decision. The law aims to criminalize businesses that host sexually explicit shows and performers who wear certain prosthetics and dance suggestively in the presence of minors.

•Restrictions on transition-related care for children: Senate Bill 14 prohibits transgender youth from receiving puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Medical professionals who prescribe these two transition-related treatments, used to treat gender dysphoria and alleviate associated mental health issues, will lose their license to practice. The law is being challenged in court.

•Changes to university tenure policy: Senate Bill 18 solidifies university tenure policies into state law, placing more power over tenure approval and dismissal policies in the hands of lawmakers rather than individual university systems. The law does not go as far as the original legislation, proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to eliminate tenure at all public universities.

•Assistance to rural sheriff’s offices: A priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Senate Bill 22 allocates $330 million in support for rural sheriffs, in return for hiking the pay for sheriffs, deputies and prosecutors. A grant-based system monitored by Texas’ comptroller will determine eligibility by a county’s population size.

•Banning COVID-19 mandates: Senate Bill 29 bans the state from enacting mask mandates, vaccine mandates or business and school closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In 2020 and 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott imposed these restrictions at the urging of U.S. and world health officials as a way to rein in the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and protect particularly vulnerable Texans from contacting the virus.

Many conservatives opposed the restrictions, saying they were needless or overused. The new law makes exceptions for certain entities, such as prisons, hospitals and assisted living centers or nursing homes.

•Creating a new business court: House Bill 19 will create a new judicial district with jurisdiction to hear cases involving businesses across the state, as long as the value for actions being disputed exceeds $10 million. The judges for the district will be appointed by the governor and serve two-year terms.

Supporters of the bill said it would help reduce court backlogs, ensure that judges hearing business cases have expertise on complex civil business litigation and help Texas maintain its economic strength. Opponents argued that the Republicans who dominate the Legislature passed the bill as a way to allow businesses to avoid having their cases heard by judges in big cities who are elected by Democrats.

The bill became law on Sept. 1, but it will take another year for the court to get started.

•Speeding up housing developments: House Bill 14 allows third-party review of building applications if cities and counties fail to issue building permits within 15 days. The law is intended to speed up the local development process to build homes and apartments more quickly. Studies show that longer regulatory processes for housing permits drive up home prices and rents.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/08/31/new-texas-laws-september-2023/.

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