By Chuck Lindell | Austin American-Statesman
With the Legislature adjourned and the Sunday veto deadline passed, 477 new laws have already taken effect in Texas — including the end of red-light cameras, a harsher punishment for groping and a new special district intended to preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin.
To take immediate effect, a bill must receive support from at least two thirds of senators and House members, so many of the new laws were not controversial or addressed regional needs or issues.
House Bill 1821, for example, designates a stretch of Airport Boulevard as the Richard Overton Memorial Highway to honor the Austin man who was the nation’s oldest World War II veteran when he died in December at age 112.
Other bills made an emotional connection with lawmakers, such as HB 866, which will require natural gas pipeline operators to replace all cast-iron pipes, which are older and prone to leaking, by the end of 2021 after an explosion killed 12-year-old Michellita Rogers in her Dallas home in February 2018.
And some new laws are a somber reflection of the times, including HB 2195, which requires school districts to create emergency policies for responding to an active shooter.
Likewise, HB 496 requires bleeding control stations to be established in all public schools, with students in the seventh grade and higher trained annually in the use of tourniquets, chest seals, compression bandages and gauze dressings.
“We’ve got to look at how we can save as many young people as possible,” Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio, said when she introduced the bill at a public hearing in April.
Another 821 laws passed in the 86th session of the Legislature will take effect Sept. 1, the start of the state fiscal year, with about two dozen others slated for a Jan. 1 starting date.
Among the new laws that are already in force:
- Senate Bill 11 seeks to improve school safety by creating the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium to provide access to psychiatric professionals. It also requires additional safety training for school employees, telephones in each classroom and campus threat-assessment teams to better identify students who are a risk to themselves or others.
- HB 1631 requires cities, including Austin, to shut down red-light cameras, the automatic devices that snap photos of traffic violations at marked intersections, resulting in a ticket that was mailed to the vehicle’s owner.
- SB 2553 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, creates the Save Historic Muny District that includes the golf course along Lake Austin Boulevard and nearby neighborhoods. The district could impose fees through utility bills, if district voters approve, and would dissolve in May 2021 unless it has an agreement with the University of Texas, which owns the city-operated property, to purchase or otherwise preserve the land for golfing, parkland or a combination of the two uses.
- The new crime of indecent assault, which can bring up to one year in jail for groping and unwanted sexual contact, was created by SB 194. Formerly, groping could bring at most a $500 fine — a punishment that provided an insufficient deterrent and little incentive to investigate alleged infractions, bill supporters said.
- HB 3703 slightly loosened restrictions on medical marijuana by allowing low-potency doses to be prescribed for epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer and autism.
- HB 1325 allows Texas farmers to grow hemp and lets the crop to be processed into finished goods.
- A court ruling that struck down the “walking quorum” rule resulted in SB 1640, which bars elected officials from breaking into small groups to discuss public business in private, avoiding a quorum that would trigger the Open Meetings Act.
- SB 37 bans state and local regulatory agencies from rescinding or denying a professional license for those who had defaulted on a student loan.
- HB 1590 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, creates the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force in the governor’s office to study ways to improve the prevention, investigation and prosecution of sexual violence.
Other laws that have already taken effect will establish a statewide plan to address flooding, direct the governor to designate a Holocaust Remembrance Week in public schools, and create a panel to study changing the system of electing judges along party lines.