Typically on Sept. 1 (Sunday) in odd-numbered years in Texas, a slew of new laws take effect from the session of the Texas Legislature that ends in May. It’s the start of the state’s fiscal year and a $250 billion, two-year budget.
This year 820 new laws are set to hit the books thanks to the 86th session of the legislature. Some of the more noteworthy and interesting laws include:
• SMOKING AGE: The age to buy tobacco and vaping products goes from 18 to 21. Texas is the 15th state to raise the smoking age to 21. However, members of the military are exempt. The hope is this will cut down on youth smoking.
• HANDGUN DURING A DISASTER: You can carry a handgun now during a disaster in the week after the governor declares a disaster, and you don’t even need to have a handgun license. The possibility must be giving headaches to police agencies.
• SELLER’S DISCLOSURE AND FLOODING: Disclosures must now be made if a home is in a 500-year flood plain or if it has been flooded in a previous weather event.
• PACKAGE THIEFS: If you steal a package from someone, the penalties will now range from a Class A misdemeanor to third degree felony. It depends on how many packages someone steals. This seems like a great idea, especially when so many more packages are being delivered these days by UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.
• BOGUS TELEMARKETERS: It’ll be a crime for telemarketers to make calls that use fake phone numbers that show up on a person’s caller ID. Bravo. During the last year, it seems like this has happened to me all too often with telemarketers calling from a number that has the same area code and prefix as my own. It has always seemed fishy.
• BREAST MILK PUMPING: Women will be able to pump breast milk wherever they want. According to the Texas Tribune, the previous law allowed breast feeding anywhere, but didn’t specify breast pumping. If this bothers you, then look away. New moms have enough to worry about when their babies are hungry.
• ABORTION REGULATION: Texas law already prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the “Born Alive Act” requires doctors to treat if an abortion attempt fails. This would be unusual, to say the least. Also, cities and counties will be blocked from signing contracts with abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
• SEXTING: Under House Bill 2789, it’s now a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum $500 fine to send sexually explicit photos or video without a recipient’s permission. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Shannon Edmonds of the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association doesn’t expect the law to get much use because he says “it’s pretty patently unconstitutional.” Nevertheless, it will be Texas law until challenged in court.
• HAZING STATUTE TIGHTENED: The definition of hazing has been expanded to include coercing someone into taking drugs or consuming alcohol to the point of drunkenness. This is aimed at college fraternities who allow activities to get out of hand. On some tragic occasions, it’s also resulted in young men dying.
• GROPING A CRIME: It will be a crime under Senate Bill 194 — called indecent assault — to engage in groping and unwanted sexual conduct.
• SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS: SB1264 prohibits Texans from receiving unexpected bills when their insurance company and health care provider have a dispute. It puts the matter into an arbitration process that doesn’t involve the patient.
• KIDS SELLING LEMONADE: Kids who sell lemonade and other non-alcoholic beverages can’t be regulated by cities or neighborhood associations. No permits will be necessary. According to the Tribune, this garnered support after police in Overton shut down a lemonade stand when two kids were trying to buy a Father’s Day present.
On top of these laws, there’s the new law that allows hemp cultivation in Texas, but it has caused prosecutors across the state to lighten up on marijuana prosecutions because testing to tell the difference between the two is so expensive.
Don’t expect Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session, but expect attempts to tweak the law during the 2021 session. We’ll have two years to see the result, but Texas isn’t ready for legal marijuana.
Reach Fred Hartman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.