AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As communities across the state of Texas get back into the swing of the school year, families may find the rest of their 2023 ruled by not only new fall activities and extracurricular schedules but also new laws going into effect on Sept. 1.
Some laws going into effect in the Lone Star State were passed back in 2021, but around 774 laws will go into effect that were passed by the Texas Legislature in 2023. A number of them have been challenged in court, others have been the result of years of dedicated efforts, but all of them will impact life in Texas.
Laws passed in 2023
A full list of the 774 laws passed in 2023 that will go into effect on Sept. 1 can be found here. At a glance, here are a few of the major bills among them.
Allocating the budget
HB 1 was one of the first orders of business, fittingly, for Texas, detailing the state’s $300 billion-plus spending plan and where it intends to put its $32.7 billion surplus. Some of the funding will go toward tax cuts, mental health access, state employee pay raises, border security, state parks expansion, and infrastructure for broadband and water.
Banning care for trans kids
The Texas law would prevent transgender minors from accessing hormone therapies, puberty blockers, and transition surgeries, even though medical experts say such surgical procedures are rarely performed on children.
As noted in previous reports, a judge in Travis County found the bill likely violates parents’ and doctors’ rights under the Texas Constitution, writing that it infringes upon “the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”
While the state is expected to appeal the case, as of Aug. 29, the order will keep the law from going into effect on Sept. 1.
Eliminating sales tax on diapers, wipes, and menstrual products
SB 379 will remove the Texas state sales taxes from purchasing several items, including bandages, diapers, and menstrual products. Supporters said this will make certain necessities more accessible for low-income Texans.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, had introduced this bill in four consecutive legislative sessions. She attributed the nearly $33 billion budget surplus to a main factor in getting it across the finish line this year.
Expanding postpartum Medicaid
After years of effort from maternal health advocates, new mothers in Texas will qualify for a year of Medicaid coverage after childbirth. Although it excludes people who have abortions, HB 12 was signed on June 16 and will extend the postpartum Medicaid coverage that currently ends two months after childbirth.
The move was the top recommendation from the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee.
Anonymous newborn surrendering through ‘baby boxes’
SB 780 will expand Texas’ “Baby Moses” law to allow the use of “Baby Boxes” or “Newborn Safety Devices” to surrender newborn babies to emergency infant care providers.
This will allow people to anonymously give up babies at safe places such as fire, EMS or police stations in their communities. In the past, people were required to leave an infant with an employee on site physically.
Allowing murder charges for fentanyl poisoning
HB 6 will increase criminal penalties for selling and distributing fentanyl, as well as allow prosecutors to seek a murder charge for a person who makes or delivers fentanyl when someone dies as a result of the drug.
However, some critics have said they worry the law will put more people struggling with addiction behind bars instead of addressing root problems causing the rise in drug use.
Extra requirements for school safety
Among at least 17 bills aimed at enhancing school safety that were considered in Texas this year, HB 3 was passed as the legislature’s sweeping safety bill. The bill requires Texas schools to meet enhanced security standards for their physical infrastructure and requires that school districts place at least one armed security officer at every campus.
Although school districts across the state mostly supported the requirements, they stressed that they’ll need the money and resources to implement the changes.
Allowing unlicensed chaplains to serve as school counselors
SB 763 will allow unlicensed chaplains into schools to serve in school counseling positions if approved by district leaders.
However, more than 100 Texas chaplains issued a letter in August urging school board members across the state to keep chaplains out of public schools. Those who signed the letter said that the chaplaincy programs are an “affront to the religious freedom rights of students and parents as well as church-state separation, and the programs would take funding away from trained mental health professionals who are better equipped to serve students.”
Strengthening the Texas power grid
HB 1500 caps a rule that requires companies that sell power to pay extra to companies that generate power if they are available during tighter grid conditions, such as heat waves or other extreme conditions that lead to increased demands for power.
The bill also requires new power producers connecting to the grid to be prepared to meet specific generating thresholds during high-demand times or face penalties. For example, this will mean wind or solar farms may need to have extra batteries on-site for when they can’t generate enough power.
The bill has been criticized for further restricting renewable energy companies. However, supporters say it will improve the reliability of the ERCOT grid.
Restricting trans athletes in college sports
SB 15 bans college athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identities and instead requires that they compete based on their sex assigned at birth. The bill is a similar law to HB 25, which passed in 2021 and targeted transgender athletes in Texas public schools.
While supporters of the bill have said that it is a measure to prevent awards from being stripped unfairly from cisgender athletes, there have been no reports from Texas NCAA universities of transgender athletes competing or taking awards or records away from cisgender athletes. Critics of the bill have argued that it is meant to address a problem that does not exist and will only serve to discriminate against and take opportunities away from student-athletes.
Banning DEI in colleges
SB 17, signed on June 14, will ban diversity, equity, and inclusion offices on public university campuses in Texas. Universities are not required to reassign DEI office employees to new positions.
Although supporters of the bill have said it will ensure hiring practices at public universities are “color-blind and sex-neutral,” attorneys have argued that DEI policies already prohibit discrimination according to federal law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also recommended DEI initiatives as a best practice.
Regulating “sexually explicit” shows (the “Drag Ban” bill)
SB 12 says that business owners will face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit shows in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex” and penalizes performers with a Class A misdemeanor, which can include a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Specifically, the law restricts “sexually oriented performances” at commercial enterprises, on public property, or in the presence of a person younger than 18. The law also expanded the definition of sexual conduct to include the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.”
While the specific references to drag shows were removed from the language of the bill, it remains and was initially designed to criminalize drag shows and drag performers in Texas.
While lawmakers who supported the bill said it is aimed at protecting children from inappropriate conduct, SB 12 is another law passed in Texas in 2023 that has been harshly criticized and considered a discriminatory measure against LGBTQ+ people.
Changing tenure for professors
SB 18 will codify guidelines and require performance reviews for tenured professors.
Critics of the bill in Texas have said that it is another part of a wider effort by conservatives across the US to target tenure, both due to political opinions against higher education and using political buzzwords to deny pay and benefits from faculty. Supporters of SB 18 have framed it as an accountability measure amid an effort to prevent the “indoctrination” of college students.
Expanding broadband in Texas
HB 9/HJR 125 will allocate $1.5 billion to expanding internet availability across Texas.
The state’s effort to expand broadband internet access comes after establishing the Texas Broadband Development Office in 2021, which ran a public survey in June 2023 to help develop a Texas Digital Opportunity Plan. However, as reported by the Texas Tribune, the $1.5 billion allocated in the bill is far lower than the $10 billion that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified would be needed to connect Texas to broadband internet fully.
Overriding local regulations (the “Death Star” bill)
HB 2127, the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act, also known as the “Death Star” bill, will allow the state to override local governments in certain circumstances, such as eliminating municipal codes that are stricter than state law.
For example, this will include eliminating a Dallas rule mandating construction workers take a 10-minute break every four hours. While supporters of the bill have said it will make it easier to do business in the state, critics have called it an overreach that will take away the rights of communities to protect their workers.
Even before the law was enacted, the City of Houston filed a lawsuit against it and asked that it be deemed unconstitutional.
Introducing temporary highway speed limit changes
House Bill 1885, authored by State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), allows variable speed limits to be used “to address inclement weather, congestion, road construction, or any other condition that affects the safe and orderly movement of traffic on a roadway.”
Before this new law, Texas Department of Transportation engineers were required to seek approval before issuing any temporary speed limit changes.
Closing loopholes for commercial dog and cat breeding
SB 876 will require dog or cat breeders with five or more adult unspayed females to obtain a license to operate under the Texas Occupations Code. According to lawmakers and advocates, the law is intended to close loopholes for large-scale commercial dog and cat breeding operations.
Previously, Texas law defined a dog or cat breeder as someone who possesses 11 or more adult unspayed females and sells 20 or more puppies or kittens in a calendar year. However, problems pointed out with the current law have included the potential for untraceable cash transactions and unregulated large-scale breeding operations.
Funding water infrastructure
SB 28/SJR 75 set aside $1 billion to upgrade Texas water infrastructure and jumpstart water supply projects ranging from marine desalination to treating water pulled up from the ground during oil fracking, subject to voter approval in November.
As reported by the Texas Water Resources Institute in 2022, water infrastructure around the U.S. and in Texas is failing, from sewage systems to the pipes that carry water into people’s homes, after more than a century of water systems in the country remaining largely unchanged.
Further, as noted by the Environmental Defense Fund and previous reports on MyHighPlains.com, Texas is losing groundwater at increasing speed, a finite resource that sustains large portions of the region, including the Texas Panhandle and High Plains. Advocates, experts, and legislators alike have continued to call for Texas to take systematic action to address the state’s water supply and infrastructure needs.
Laws passed in 2021
Adult high school charter program
SB 1615 relates to the adult high school charter program, with Section 15(b) taking effect in September 2023. The bill focuses on amending the Education Code to rename the adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school program as the adult high school charter school program.
Further, it expands the program’s scope from a sole charter granted to a single nonprofit entity charter holder to a regulatory framework for similar charters that may be granted to additional entities. The bill limits the number of adult high school charters granted within a specified period and creates an initial enrollment limit for newly chartered programs.
For September 2023, the bill will establish program-specific methods for calculating relevant foundation school program funding components, including:
- Average daily attendance;
- The compensatory education allotment;
- The college, career, or military readiness outcomes bonus; and
- Another allotment is based on weighted student outcomes.
Government Code and state agency rules
HB 1322 requires that a state agency that files a notice of a proposed rule with the secretary of state publish a summary of the rule “written in plain language” in English and Spanish on its website.