Maybe you won’t even notice at first.
But on Tuesday, hundreds of new Texas laws that will influence your life in a variety of ways will take effect.
No longer will skipping school land a student in jail. But anyone caught lying about a military record could spend time behind bars. And victims of stalking, voyeurism and revenge porn will have more protections.
Concealed-handgun licenses are now an acceptable form of ID, firecrackers can be bought more often, election dates are shifting — and owners of drones need to keep them out of the Texas Capitol unless they want to pay a fine and face jail time.
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These are just some of the nearly 700 laws that take effect Tuesday, the first day of the fiscal year.
“Most Texans won’t feel any major effects of the laws going into effect from the 84th Legislature,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate political science professor at the University of Houston.
“In a way, a modest impact on people’s lives has historically been the Legislature’s approach to public policy,” he said. “The constitution limits the session to only 140 days, and the Legislature itself has limited their biennial budget authority. Fewer laws are the objective of a conservative session.”
“It might behoove us to pay more attention,” said Michelle Payne, an associate political science professor at Texas Wesleyan University.
Here’s a look at some of the measures that begin Tuesday.
Military and more
Fictitious military records: Texans who knowingly lie about their military records could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail. Senate Bill 835
Protecting widows: After reports that some banks don’t inform widows about the mortgage they had with their spouse if their names weren’t on the documents, lawmakers passed House Bill 831. It requires the lender to give the surviving spouse information about the mortgage within 30 days of receiving a request for information.
Protecting military bases: As bases nationwide face cutbacks or closure, Texas is working to shore up installations. SB1358 makes the Texas Military Preparedness Commission — which works to protect bases — a separate entity rather than just part of the governor’s Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office. It also boosts the grant money from $2 million to $5 million to help protect bases. The federal government closed more than 350 bases nationwide from 1989 to 2005. Naval Air Station Fort Worth, which opened in 1994 after Carswell Air Force Base was closed, is the third-largest employer in North Central Texas.
Protecting patients: The Texas Advance Directives Act (HB3074) prevents doctors and nurses from withdrawing nutrition and hydration from the ill unless the patient would be harmed.
Oath of allegiance: Officials want volunteers for Texas military forces to take an oath of allegiance to Texas and the United States. Under HB1598, they will swear to “bear true faith and allegiance” to Texas and the U.S., “serve this state and nation honestly and faithfully against all enemies,” and follow the governor’s orders.
Texans, keep your guns covered — for now. The new open-carry law, which lets licensed Texans openly carry their holstered handguns, won’t take effect until Jan. 1.
Political requirements: State lawmakers added one more box to the list of requirements for political candidates: They must be registered to vote. HB484 says candidates must be registered to vote in the community where they’re seeking office.
Saving paper: Campaign reports no longer have to be printed out and sent in to the Texas Ethics Commission. Candidates and politicians can file their financial statements with the commission “by computer diskette, modem or other means of electronic transfer.” HB3683
Shifting election dates: HB2354 moves local elections to the first Saturday in May from the second Saturday in May to avoid conflicts with other political dates, such as state party conventions. The general election remains the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Protections for victims of stalking: Under HB1293, victims may use a pseudonym in public files and records about the offense. They also don’t have to provide their address or phone number on these documents.
Outlawing voyeurism: HB207 makes voyeurism — when a person “with the intent to arouse or gratify … sexual desire” secretly watches another person in a dwelling believed to be private — a Class C misdemeanor.
Jail visits: As video visitation becomes more frequent, HB549 stipulates that inmates’ twice-weekly 20-minute visits in county jails be in person and face-to-face. Supporters said the change will strengthen families, lower recidivism and improve general jail conditions.
Canine training: After a Fort Worth couple’s dog was shot by police, lawmakers passed HB593 to require peace officers statewide to go through training on dealing with canines. The measure will require four hours of classroom training and practical training focused on understanding canine behavior, anticipating encounters and using humane tools to handle run-ins with dogs.
Revenge porn: Revenge porn — when someone posts sexually explicit photos and videos of an ex as revenge after a breakup — is on the rise, and the penalties are as well. SB1135 says anyone who participates in “revenge porn” or puts images on “revenge porn websites” faces a Class A misdemeanor that carries up to a $4,000 fine and a year in jail. Civil and criminal penalties may also be assessed against the person putting the images online — and the website that allows the images.
No more knife fights: HB905 is called the “knife pre-emption bill” because it makes knife laws uniform statewide, preventing communities from approving or enforcing ordinances stricter than state laws. That, some say, will eliminate a patchwork of rules stretching across the state that allow different restrictions in different cities.
Many, if not most, of these new laws are unrecognizable to the general public.
Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington
Styling hair: Barbers and hairstylists can leave their salons and legally help Texans prepare for special events, such as weddings, under HB104.
Decriminalizing truancy: Texas students who skip school will no longer head to jail. HB2398 makes truancy a civil rather than a criminal offense.
Moving ahead with college construction: HB100 makes available $3 billion in bonds to help colleges with desperately needed construction projects. Key Tarrant County projects include a research building at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth; a science and education innovation and research building at the University of Texas at Arlington; and a new building for Tarleton State University in Fort Worth.
E-Verify: State agencies now must use the E-Verify system to make sure that new employees are authorized to work in the U.S. SB374.
New form of ID: HB2739 lets Texans use their concealed-handgun licenses as valid identification to do everything from buy beer to cash checks.
Gift cards: HB2391 finally lets consumers cash in low-value gift cards. Shoppers can redeem store gift cards for cash if the balance is less than $2.50.
More time for fireworks: Texans will have more chances to buy fireworks under HB1150. Fireworks are already sold from June 24 to July 4; Dec. 20 to Jan. 1; and May 1 to May 5 if the sale is no more than 100 miles from the Texas-Mexico border and in a county where officials have approved fireworks sales. Now Texans can buy fireworks from Feb. 25 to March 2; April 16 to April 21; and from the Wednesday before the last Monday in May through midnight on the last Monday in May.
Curbing drink solicitation: For years, workers at unscrupulous bars have asked customers to buy them drinks, which turn out to be very expensive — sparkling water or nonalcoholic beer for $50, for example. HB3982, by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, and others, is geared toward doing away with “fichera” bars, which many believe have led to drug- and human-trafficking and forced labor. The law is now amended to prevent this solicitation of drinks.
Keep drones out: Anyone who happens to have an “unmanned aircraft” would do well to keep it out of the Texas Capitol complex. Using a drone there is a Class B misdemeanor, thanks to HB3628.
“Many, if not most, of these new laws are unrecognizable to the general public,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Should the Legislature get involved with issues like student truancy [and] when firecrackers can be purchased? Doubtful.
“It is a legislative function [to address] construction of new college buildings, election dates,” he said. “Other laws should be labeled as superfluous.”
Open-carry law takes effect Jan. 1
Texas gun enthusiasts, keep your guns covered up — for now.
The new open-carry law, which lets licensed Texans openly carry their holstered handguns, won’t take effect until Jan. 1.
And campus carry, which lets licensed Texans carry concealed handguns on most college campuses, won’t begin until next August.
Open Carry Texas said people planning to openly carry might want to do at least one thing before then — buy “gun insurance,” or prepaid legal services.
“It only costs about $13 per month for peace of mind,” according to the group’s website. “We also recommend that you make sure you have a camera or a camera phone that can record video of any encounters with law enforcement, regardless of the type of encounter. Though negative encounters are becoming less common, this is for YOUR legal protection in court should you be unlawfully arrested or harassed.”
— Anna M. Tinsley