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New Texas Laws Take Effect

On Wednesday, Sept. 1, most of the more than 660 bills passed by the 87th Texas Legislature became law. Listed below is a wide range of laws that could have an impact on Corpus Christi and Coastal Bend residents. They address issues such as firearm carry, abortion, prekindergarten classroom size, marijuana sales, and the National Anthem.

As these laws go into effect, the Legislature is in its second special session of the summer. Bills that are currently being addressed are for voting and bail reform, two of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities that didn’t make it through the regular session.

Firearms Carry Act 2021 (House Bill 1927)

Texas joins 18 other states that allow anyone who owns a gun to carry it in public without a license or training as previously required. A law enforcement officer may disarm someone if the officer, in the lawful discharge of their duty, “reasonably believes it is necessary for the protection of the person, officer, or another individual.”

Texas Heartbeat Act (Senate Bill 8)

Under this law, an abortion cannot be performed or induced once a fetal heartbeat is detected in the womb unless in the case of a medical emergency. The previous law banned abortions or similar procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Simplifying SNAP enrollment (SB 224)

Here, the Health and Human Services Commission must simplify the application and recertification process for people 60 years and older and disabled individuals who seek SNAP cards to help buy groceries. According to a 2018 report, “Texas had the fifth-highest rate of senior food insecurity in the nation, with 11 percent of Texas seniors at risk for hunger.”

Prekindergarten class cap (SB 2081)

A limit of 22 prekindergarten students to one teacher will be mandated, with no more than 11 students per teacher or aide in a classroom with more than 15 students. The Texas Education Agency reported that there were “hundreds” of prekindergarten classrooms in the state with an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1:30 or higher.

Social studies curriculum change (HB 3979)

This law amends the manner in which social studies is taught in the classroom, in reference to Critical Race Theory. It restricts teachers from “being compelled to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.” If they do tackle those topics, teachers must, to the best of their ability, “strive to explore those topics from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” A focus on the founding documents of the United States is emphasized.

Leilah Hernandez Act (HB 103)

This law directs the Department of Public Safety to create a Texas Active Shooter Alert System to notify people if an active shooter situation is in their area. The system would alert by phone people within a 50-mile radius of an active shooter situation. Local law enforcement can request its activation when necessary.

Blocking emergency vehicles (HB 9)

A person may not “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly“ block an emergency vehicle that has its emergency lights or siren operating without facing a state jail felony charge.

Botham Jean Act (HB 929)

Law enforcement officers wearing body cameras will be required to keep them on during the entire course of an investigation. House Bill 929 amends the rule to provide additional guidance for when and under what conditions should an officer activate, and then deactivate, their body camera. In addition, officers are prohibited from using excessive force, including chokeholds, during arrests unless necessary to prevent injury to themselves or a bystander.

National Anthem and professional sports (SB 4)

This law requires professional sports teams in the state of Texas to play the “Star-Spangled Banner” prior to all events. The organization will play the National Anthem if the team is receiving any government financial commitment, including using a taxpayer-subsidized facility or stadium.

A few additional new laws include allowing beer and wine sales at 10 a.m. instead of having to wait until noon; the expanded use of medical marijuana for cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers; and upgrading paying for sex to a felony.

Several laws passed during the 87th regular session and signed by the governor went into effect earlier than Sept. 1, including allowing the sale of to-go alcohol, reforming the electric power grid, and banning vaccine passports in Texas.

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