As the New Year rings in, much attention will focus on a new law that lets licensed Texans openly carry their holstered handguns throughout the state.
But there are dozens of other measures — touching on issues ranging from abortions for Texas teens to franchise taxes for businesses — that will quietly become law.
“Given [that] the timing of the new laws goes into effect over the holiday season — competing with family dinners, football and champagne corks popping — most Texans will be too busy with personal obligations to notice most changes,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, associate political science professor at the University of Houston.
“Any changes to most Texans’ daily lives will be gradual and likely incidental.”
But some groups might well be keeping an eye out for the changes.
“The largest group are those business owners who will now pay a tax rate that is 25 percent lower than in 2015,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
Here’s a look at some of the measures that become law on New Year’s Day.
Drivers for ride-share services such as Uber may find themselves stocking up on insurance in the New Year. A new Texas law sets guidelines for Transportation Network Services, requiring drivers for companies that offer prearranged rides to have $1 million in liability insurance “for death, bodily injury and property damage for each incident.”
This is required when a driver is giving a ride to someone who made a request through a “digital network,” which would include a smartphone app. House Bill 1733
Putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t that bad of an idea, now that eggs will be added to the list of farm products that are exempt from property taxes. HB 275
Businesses should see some relief when the Texas Franchise Tax is permanently reduced by 25 percent, which, along with a few other tax changes, is expected to create more than $2.5 billion in tax relief to businesses over the next two years. HB 32
The logic is that this tax cut will spur investment followed by economic growth and as a result more tax revenue in the future.
Mark P. Jones, political science professor at Rice University
The reduction could create budget problems for lawmakers in 2017, “since this tax cut simultaneously signifies $2.56 billion reduction in revenue for the state, meaning less money available for schools, roads and health care for the poor,” Jones said.
“Of course, the logic is that this tax cut will spur investment, followed by economic growth and, as a result, more tax revenue in the future.”
Texas teens trying to get an abortion might find it harder now that lawmakers have revamped a longtime practice known as “judicial bypass” that helps girls under 18 who are facing extreme situations.
Those youths, perhaps hundreds a year, have to prove to a judge that asking their parents for consent to have an abortion would not be in their best interests because it could lead to physical or emotional abuse at home.
Girls who are denied parental consent also can turn to the courts for help.
Now, with changes lawmakers made during the 2015 legislative session, girls seeking judicial bypass must show ID, providing “proof of identity and age.” They must disclose their address and telephone number.
And they may no longer seek a bypass in any county. Instead, teens must seek that bypass in their home county, or a neighboring one if the home county has fewer than 10,000 residents.
Judges will now have more time — five days rather than two — to make their ruling in these cases.
“This addresses several issues,” state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, said when arguing for the bill’s passage.
The girl must “prove by clear and convincing evidence she is mature and well-informed enough” to know that an abortion is in her best interest, she said. HB 3994
Most governmental bodies, if they weren’t already doing it, will now have to make audio or video recordings of their open meetings available on the Internet. HB 283
Next time you are pumping gas into your vehicle, look to see if there’s a notice on the gas pump showing the current rates of federal and state motor fuel taxes. The Texas Department of Agriculture is now required to display that information. HB 991
Texans who have spent time in jail or prison might have an easier time finding a place to live when they get out. HB 1510 gives landlords protection against liability for renting or leasing to someone with a criminal record.
And landlords who find the need to re-key a security device after a renter breaks his or her lease can legally use some of the security deposit to do that within seven days of the person leaving. HB 2404
Professional sports teams can now hold 50-50 raffles at home games that will give half the winnings to a local charity and half to a lucky individual. Texans approved a constitutional amendment allowing this in the November election and these raffles — at local events such as Texas Rangers games or those for the Cowboys, Stars, Mavericks or FC Dallas — can begin after Jan. 1. HB 975
Now, a notary public will get an identifying number when he or she applies for a commission or reappointment. The goal is to, for instance, distinguish between a Susan Smith in Fort Worth and a Susan Smith in Dallas. HB 1683
In an effort to draw more attention to the need for organ donation, Texans can donate more than $1 to the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry when they register their vehicle and apply for a driver’s license. Supporters say this is needed at a time when more than 14,000 Texans are waiting for an organ donation but only 805 were available for transplants in 2014. HB 3283
Specialty license plates
With the new year, Texans can now choose from a dozen new types of specialty license plates honoring a variety of people and causes.
Specialty license plates in Texas are a way for individuals to show their support for a cause or organization.
Brandon Rottinghaus, associate political science professor at the University of Houston
“Specialty license plates in Texas are a way for individuals to show their support for a cause or organization,” Rottinghaus said. “This is a low-cost way for legislators to take credit for promoting a cause and allowing Texans to support that cause, without any cost to the budget.”
There are plates to honor the 36th Infantry Division (HB 923) and those who have received the Combat Action Badge, Medal or Ribbon (HB 1128), the Commendation Medal (HB 127) or the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal (HB 1364).
Another is just for veterans (HB 789) who want to receive retired military license plates.
Another honors Gold Star families (HB 1702) by eliminating the fee for a license plate honoring their lost family member.
“For the most part, many of these laws and regulations are driven by special interests and they may or may not benefit the broader community,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.