The 85th Texas Legislature has finally concluded, and there are 1,252 new Texas laws on the books.
While many of these new laws will affect only a few Texans, some of them will have a big impact on many. We wanted to give our readers a peek at some of these new laws, while explaining (in layman’s terms) what exactly they mean.
Here is a quick roundup of some of the bills recently passed during the 85th Texas Legislature (and special session) this year. Most of these new Texas laws went into effect immediately or on September 1st, 2017, while others take effect January 1st, 2018.
Ban on Texting & Driving [HB 62]
House Bill 62, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, prohibits drivers on public roads from using a wireless communication device (i.e., a cell phone) to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.
Texting and driving in Texas will be punishable by a fine of $25-$99, which raises to $100-$200 for any subsequent offenses. This new law will preempt all “texting and driving” ordinances previously passed by cities, but does not preempt city ordinances which go beyond texting while driving (i.e., hands-free ordinances).
The law also states that if a car accident caused by texting and driving results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, the offender can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year (in addition to any other charges/punishments).
Gov. Abbott asked lawmakers to pass broader legislation during this year’s special session which would roll back any city ordinances that banned mobile phone use beyond texting while driving, potentially nullifying existing hands-free ordinances in at least 45 Texas cities. While this legislation was initially passed by the full chamber, no vote was taken on this particular measure before the special session concluded on August 15th, 2017.
Elimination of Straight-Party Voting [HB 25]
House Bill 25, which will take effect on September 1st, 2020 (just before the next election), eliminates straight-ticket voting in Texas. Voters will no longer be able to hit a single button to vote for all candidates by party affiliation.
Children Left in Hot Cars [HB 478]
House Bill 478, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that a person who, by force or otherwise, enters a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a vulnerable individual (i.e., child) from the vehicle is immune from civil liability for damages resulting from that entry or removal.
Essentially, they cannot be sued for damages if they had good faith and reasonable belief, based on known circumstances, that entry into the motor vehicle is necessary to avoid imminent harm to the individual.
From 1998-2016, there have been at least 107 children in Texas alone who’ve died after being left in a hot car.
Uber & Lyft Regulations [HB 100]
House Bill 100, which took effect immediately, amends current Occupations Code to regulate transportation network companies (i.e., Uber and Lyft), but does not apply to taxis, limousines, or other private transportation providers.
Under this new law, transportation network companies (TNCs) must be granted a permit and comply with state regulations. These regulations preempt local regulations, and include requiring drivers to have their cars properly insured, maintain a valid driver’s license, and pass a national criminal background check.
A transportation network company driver may refuse to provide service to a passenger who has demonstrated unruly and disorderly conduct, but according to the law, may not refuse to provide services for discriminatory reasons or to passengers with service animals (unless the driver has medical documentation verifying a medical reason for denying service).
No School on Memorial Day [HB 441]
House Bill 441, which went into effect immediately, simply states that a school district may not provide student instruction on Memorial Day.
Limited Liability of First Responders [HB 590]
House Bill 590, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, shields first responders who provide roadside assistance in good faith from liability related to their care, so long as they are not grossly negligent, reckless, or commit intentional misconduct.
Lottery Winners Can Remain Anonymous [HB 59]
House Bill 59, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, adds a provision which allows certain lottery winners who win $1 million or more to remain anonymous, unless they choose to receive their prize money in periodic installments.
Stem Cell Treatment (Charlie’s Law) [HB 810]
House Bill 810, which went into effect on September 1st, 2017, states that patients with a severe chronic disease or terminal illness are eligible to access and use an investigational stem cell treatment, but only if recommended or prescribed by a doctor.
Ambulances Can Only Be Used for Medical Services [HB 1249]
House Bill 1249, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that motor vehicles in this state that resemble an ambulance or emergency medical services vehicle (e.g., using the words ambulance, EMS, emergency, etc; displaying a star of life or Maltese cross; displaying forward-facing flashing red, white, or blue lights, using a siren) can no longer be operated unless used as an emergency medical services vehicle or for other legitimate governmental functions.
This law appears to be a direct response to the growing number of private companies which operate former ambulances as party buses or “slambulances.”
Impersonating a Police Officer [HB 683]
The law previously stated that it was illegal to be in possession of or use law enforcement insignia, or a vehicle, in a municipality of at least 1.18 million residents. House Bill 683, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, nullifies the population threshold requirement.
Drones Banned From Flying Over Jails & Sports Arenas [HB 1424]
House Bill 1424, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, amends Section 423.0045 of the Government Code to prohibit the operation of unmanned aircraft (i.e., drones, quadcopters) over correctional facilities and detention centers (i.e., jails, prisons), as well as over “sports venues” (i.e., an arena, automobile racetrack, coliseum, stadium, or other type of area or facility that has a seating capacity of 30,000 or more).
Additional Restrictions on Drones and Quadcopters [HB 1643]
House Bill 1643, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, restricts the operation of unmanned aircraft (i.e., drones, quadcopters) over “concentrated animal feeding operations,” oil or gas drilling sites, tanks used to store crude oil & gas, wellheads, or chemical production facilities if completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders.
The new law also permits political subdivisions (e.g., cities, towns, and districts) to regulate drone use, but only during special events.
Discouraging Hailstorm Litigation [HB 1774]
House Bill 1774, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, adds significant hurdles to policyholders who want to dispute weather-related property damage claims. The goal of the new law is to discourage property owners from suing insurers over weather-related claims such as hail damage to a home’s roof.
This tort reform measure reduces the penalties insurance companies face when they don’t adequately cover claims caused by hail or severe weather. It also decreases the chances that the insurance company will have to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees, should they be forced to take the issue to court.
“Illegal Knife” Repeal [HB 1935]
House Bill 1935, which went into effect on September 1st, 2017, eliminates daggers, dirks, stilettos, poniards, swords, spears, and Bowie knives from Texas statute, effectively allowing them to be carried anywhere in the state.
Blades over 5 1/2 inches are now defined as “location restricted” knives. These knives may be carried throughout the state except in a narrow list of places (e.g., schools, colleges, correctional facilities, houses of worship, bars). Minors under the age of 18 are also restricted from carrying these types of knives.
Courts Required to Video Record Certain Proceedings [HB 214]
House Bill 214, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, amends the Government Code to require the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals to make video and audio recordings of each oral argument and public meeting available on the court’s website, but only if funds are made available.
Landlords Cannot Fine You for Calling the Police [HB 1099]
House Bill 1099, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that a landlord may not issue fines, prohibit, or limit a residential tenant’s right to summon police (or other emergency assistance) based on the tenant’s reasonable belief that an individual is in need of intervention or emergency assistance.
Wheelchair Restraints in Nursing Homes [HB 284]
House Bill 284, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, permits nursing homes and certain healthcare facilities to allow residents to use wheelchairs with self-release seat belts, if authorized by the resident or the resident’s guardian.
Workers’ Comp Death Benefits for First Responders [HB 2119]
House Bill 2119, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, allows the surviving spouse of an officer, first responder, or volunteer who was killed in the line of duty to receive workers’ compensation death benefits for life, whether or not the surviving spouse later remarries.
Reporting Improper Student-Teacher Relationships [SB 7]
Senate Bill 7, which went into effect on September 1st, 2017, states that the principal of a school district, district of innovation, or open-enrollment charter school campus must notify the superintendent or director of the applicable district no later than the seventh business day after learning of an educator’s termination or resignation following an alleged incident of misconduct, including student-teacher relationships.
Improving The Department of Family and Protective Services [SB 24]
Senate Bill 24, which took effect on September 1st, 2017 (except for section 23, which went into effect immediately), does a variety of things related to improving services provided by the Department of Family and Protective Services, including:
- Requiring the department to track repeated reports of abuse or neglect involving the same child or by the same alleged perpetrator, and group together reports involving different children in the same household.
- Establishing procedure for the department to investigate child abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
- Requiring the department to use geographic risk mapping to identify areas with high risk of child maltreatment and fatalities, and use prevention and early intervention services in those areas.
Statute of Limitations on Cases of Exploitation [SB 998]
Senate Bill 998, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, completely removes the statute of limitations on criminal cases involving the exploitation of a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual.
Priority to Voters With Mobility Issues [HB 658]
House Bill 658, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that an election officer may give voting order priority to individuals with a mobility problem that substantially impairs the person’s ability to move around.
Disabilities and conditions that may qualify you for voting order priority include paralysis, lung disease, the use of portable oxygen, cardiac deficiency, severe limitation in the ability to walk due to arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition, wheelchair confinement, arthritis, foot disorder, the inability to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, or use of a brace, cane, crutch, or other assistive device. A person assisting an individual with a mobility problem may also, at the individual’s request, be given voting order priority.
Additionally, a voter who makes an application to vote early by mail on the grounds of age or disability requesting that the ballot be sent to the address of a residential care facility, is required to vote as provided by that chapter if five or more applications for ballots to be voted by mail are made by residents of the same facility who request that the ballots be sent to that facility.
Car Seat Safety Education During Drivers Ed [HB 1372]
House Bill 1372, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, requires that information relating to the proper use of child passenger safety seat systems (car seats) be included in the curriculum of each driver education and driving safety course.
Limiting Lawsuits Concerning ADA Violations [HB 1463]
House Bill 1463, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, allows business owners who fail to comply with standards meant to accommodate individuals with disabilities a specific amount of time to remedy architectural inadequacies following official notice.
Earning a Letter for Special Olympics [HB 1645]
House Bill 1645, which went into effect immediately, states that if a school district allows high school students to earn a letter for academic, athletic, or extracurricular achievements, the district must allow high school students in the district to earn a letter on the basis of a student’s participation in a Special Olympics event.
Legislating Bad Nursing Homes [HB 2025]
House Bill 2025, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, imposes harsher penalties on nursing homes that continuously fail to meet certain standards of established care, and creates staffing requirements and staff education for all facilities that provide care to Residents with Alzheimer’s disease, or related disorders.
The primary objective of HB 2025 is to prevent the abuse of the “right to correct” provision by repeat offenders with a history of serious violations. It empowers the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to “substantially change” the process by which facilities are disciplined and the penalties available.
Disallowing Parental Consent for Child Marriages [SB 1705]
Senate Bill 1705, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, removes the provision allowing parental consent to authorize the marriage of a minor. Texas law now only allows a person under 18 years old to marry if they have been granted a court order removing the “disabilities of minority” of the person for general purposes.
It should be noted that Texas had the highest number of child marriages in the country, with 40,000 children under 18 married from 2000-2014.
Regulating Autonomous Vehicles in Texas [SB 2205]
Senate Bill 2205, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, permits the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to govern the operation of automated motor vehicles, and prohibits political subdivisions (e.g., cities, towns, and districts) and state agencies from regulating the operation of such vehicles.
The law allows driverless vehicles to be tested on Texas roads, and the measure lays the groundwork for these vehicles to someday be driven/produced in the state by allowing continued testing.
Increased Penalties for Littering [HB 1884]
House Bill 1884, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, increases the penalties for certain violations associated with littering. If an individual is convicted of illegal dumping, outdoor burning of household refuse, or the disposal of litter in a cave, they would be required to perform a term of community service not to exceed 60 hours, in addition to any fine or other penalties assessed. Don’t mess with Texas!
Tickets for Driving Without Car Insurance [SB 1187]
Senate Bill 1187, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, requires a peace officer to attempt to verify the existence of a driver’s liability insurance policy through the verification program before they are allowed to issue a citation to a driver of a motor vehicle for operating the vehicle without financial responsibility.
Submitting Wage Claims Online [HB 2443]
House Bill 2443, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, allows an employee who is not paid wages they are legally owed, to file a claim electronically (as opposed to in person, by mail, or by fax) with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Child Abuse by an Active Duty US Armed Forces Member [HB 2124]
House Bill 2124, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that in an investigation of a report of abuse or neglect allegedly committed by a person responsible for a child’s care, custody, or welfare, the department shall determine whether the person is an active duty member of the United States Armed Forces (or the spouse of a member on active duty).
If the department determines the person is an active duty member of the United States armed forces or the spouse of a member on active duty, the department shall notify the United States Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program at the closest active duty military installation of the investigation.
Health Advisory Councils for School Districts [SB 489]
Senate Bill 489, which went into effect immediately, states that school districts are now required to create health advisory councils to provide recommendations on physical education and nutrition, as well as recommendations on instruction to prevent the use of e-cigarettes.
EpiPens in Private Schools [SB 579]
Senate Bill 579, which took effect immediately, amends Sec. 38.201 of the Texas Education Code to include private schools. This law states that each school district and open-enrollment charter school may adopt and implement a policy regarding the maintenance, administration, and disposal of epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) at each campus in the district or school.
Alcoholic Beverages on Passenger Buses [HB 3101]
House Bill 3101, which went into effect immediately, authorizes the sale of alcoholic beverages on certain passenger buses. The act creates a new passenger bus beverage permit (at the cost of $500 a year) that gives operators of passenger buses the same right to sell alcohol that commercial planes have. The permits would come from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Banks Must Report Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Individuals [HB 3921]
House Bill 3921, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, requires employees of financial institutions to report on financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult if they have good cause to believe that financial exploitation is occurring.
The financial institution (e.g., bank, credit union, etc.) are compelled to assess the suspected financial exploitation and submit a report to the Department of Family and Protective Services, in the same manner as, and containing the same information required to be reported under the Human Resources Code regarding abuse, neglect, and exploitation of an elderly person.
Protecting Sermons from Subpoenas [SB 24]
Senate Bill 24, which went into effect immediately, prohibits government entities from compelling, or attempting to compel, the production of a recording or transcript of a religious sermon in a civil or administrative proceeding. This legislation would not apply to criminal proceedings.
David’s Law (Anti-Cyberbullying) [SB 179]
Senate Bill 179, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, modifies the existing definition of bullying and create a new definition for cyberbullying. The law mandates that public and private schools adopt policies relating to cyberbullying, and includes a provision that would require the reporting of potential bullying offenses to local law enforcement.
The act provides that a person commits an offense if the person directs multiple written, oral, or electronic communications toward a child in a manner that is reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend the child, with the intent that the child commit suicide or engage in conduct causing serious bodily injury.
The law was named after 16-year-old student David Molak, who took his own life in January of 2016 after enduring relentless cyberbullying.
Reviewing Pending Child Abuse Cases [SB 190]
Senate Bill 190, which took effect immediately, establishes a procedure to review cases that remain open for 60 days following a report of child abuse or neglect made to the Department of Family and Protective Services, and to determine if the case qualifies for closure under the statute.
Seat Belts on School Buses [SB 693]
Under current law, a school bus and school activity bus must be equipped with a three-point seat belt for each passenger.
Senate Bill 693, which went into effect on September 1st, 2017, amends current Transportation Code by including multi-function school activity buses or school-charter buses to the seat belt requirement.
This bill exempts all buses that are 2017 models or earlier; or a model 2018 or newer, if the board of trustees determines that a district’s budget does not permit the purchase of buses allowed by this bill and votes to approve the determination in a public meeting.
Safety Inspections for Trailers & Mobile Homes [SB 1001]
Previously, a trailer, semitrailer, pole trailer, or mobile home with a gross or registered weight of 4,500 pounds or less was exempt from the state safety inspection requirements.
Senate Bill 1001, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, raises the weight threshold to 7,500 pounds. For those exempted vehicles weighing more than 4,500 pounds, a fee of $7.50 will be imposed.
Unfortunately, this means that even fewer vehicles sharing our roads are subject to critical safety inspections.
Reducing License To Carry Fees [SB 16]
Senate Bill 16, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, drops the cost of a License to Carry from $140 to $40. It also waives the fee for Texas military and peace officers.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month [HB 822]
House Bill 822, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, officially designates April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in order to increase awareness and prevention of sexual assault.
Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day [HB 3042]
House Bill 3042, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, officially designates July 7th as Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice made by Texas law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Train Safety Awareness Month [HCR 49]
House Concurrent Resolution 49, which went into effect immediately, officially designates July as Train Safety Awareness Month for a 10-year period beginning in 2017.
Fallen First Responder Awareness Month [HCR 86]
House Concurrent Resolution 86, which went into effect immediately, officially designates May as Fallen First Responder Awareness Month for a 10-year period beginning in 2017.
Knife Capitol of Texas [HCR 27]
House Concurrent Resolution 27, which went into effect immediately, designates Spurger as the “Knife Capital of Texas” for a 10-year period beginning in 2017.
Live Music Capital of North Texas [HCR 42]
House Concurrent Resolution 42, which went into effect immediately, designates the city of Rockwall as the official “Live Music Capital of North Texas” for a 10-year period beginning in 2017.
Wedding Capital of Texas [HCR 70]
House Concurrent Resolution 70, which went into effect immediately, designates Dripping Springs as the official “Wedding Capital of Texas” for a 10-year period beginning in 2017.
Black and White Drivers License Photos [HB 1345]
Previously, Texas law stated that a drivers license must include “a color photograph of the entire face of the holder.” House Bill 1345, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, simply removes the word “color” from the law so that “DPS can pick the safest, most secure license possible.”
Labeling Secondhand Wrist Watches [HB 2027]
House Bill 2027, which went into effect immediately, repeals a 1941 law geared to cut down on counterfeiting that required secondhand watches to be specifically labeled and marketed.
Apparently, Texas was very strict when it came to the sale or transfer of secondhand wrist watches, and required such watches to be clearly labeled as secondhand when selling and/or advertising. HB 2027 amends the current law to remove any criminal penalties.
Hog Hunting From Hot Air Balloons [HB 3535]
House Bill 3535, which took effect on September 1st, 2017, states that a qualified landowner or landowner’s agent (as determined by commission rule) may contract to participate as a hunter or observer in using a hot air balloon to take depredating feral hogs or coyotes under the authority of a permit.
You read that right. It’s now legal to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from a hot air balloon in Texas, as strange as that sounds.
Congratulating Gregory D. Watson [HCR 145]
In what might be the strangest-looking resolution passed during this year’s legislative session, House Concurrent Resolution 145 officially congratulates Gregory D. Watson on having the overall course grade for his 1982 University of Texas American government class elevated from a C to an A after a wait of 35 years.
While this may sound odd, the story behind it is quite fascinating!
Of course this is only a sampling of the 1,200+ bills passed during Texas’ 85th legislative session. If you feel we left out an important new law, let us know by leaving a comment below!