Well folks, everything is bigger in Texas and our laws and penalties are certainly no exception. Despite the efforts of Texas Democrats to block a voting restriction bill, that bill and 665 additional bills were passed, many of which took effect on September 1, 2021. Here are some of the major new laws that took effect on Wednesday:
“Heartbeat” abortion ban.
One of the major and—undoubtedly most controversial laws—that took effect is the “heartbeat” abortion bill. While many Texans and Americans hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would weigh in on the proposed bill, the Court sat idle, allowing Texas to pass a bill that could prevent the vast majority of abortions in the state, upending nearly fifty-years of established legal precedent. This new law prohibits abortion once a heartbeat is detected in an embryo, which could happen as early as about six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.
While Texas’ law does not establish criminal penalties for those who violate the ban, it does allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion. This could have a detrimental effect on clinics, which may become the targets of endless lawsuits that consume their time and resources.
New voting restriction laws.
After months of drama and political tension, Republicans have buttoned up Senate Bill 1 which enacts new voting restrictions. The bill that drove Texas House Democrats to Washington D.C. to break quorum is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for final approval. This bill will permit partisan poll watchers “free movement” at polling places, except for at the voting stations when a voter is filling out a ballot. The bill also requires voters to provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number on an application for voting-by-mail ballots. Additionally, the bill completely bans drive-thru voting and bans 24-hour voting, as well as distribution of unsolicited mail-in ballot applications. In essence, the new law is designed to make voting even more complicated and difficult for marginalized voters, especially voters of color, who usually vote Democratic, and those with disabilities.
Workplace sexual harassment.
Most pertinent to employees and employment lawyers is Senate Bill 45, which eliminates the requirement that an employer must have at least 15 employees to be subject to laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. The new law will apply to companies with as little as one employee. Additionally, the law gives workers more time to file a sexual harassment complaint with the TWC – 300 days instead of 180 days. Other workplace discrimination complaints must still be filed within 180 days of the alleged adverse action. This is a game changer for workers and plaintiffs’ employment lawyers who have always been frustrated with the statute of limitations and minimum employee requirement associated with sexual harassment claims.
We all know you never mess with a Texan and you most definitely never mess with a Texan’s right to carry. However, this new law has expanded Texans’ right to carry a gun in public by allowing anyone who can legally own a firearm to carry in public if it is in a holster without the need to obtain a license. While this law does not alter the eligibility requirements for gun ownership, it does eliminate the licensing requirement for public carry.
Banning critical race theory.
I’m quite certain no one really knows what this truly means. Most teachers maintain they don’t teach critical race theory and that most people don’t even know what it is. According to House bill sponsor Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican, the new law is aimed at teaching complicated subjects such as slavery and racism without making white children feel guilty about being white. I say, we still have no idea what this bill means and it likely will not impact the way teachers teach.
The Botham Jean Act, or Bo’s Law, ensures that cameras worn by law enforcement officers remain on during an active investigation. The law is named after Jean who was fatally shot in his apartment by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Testimony during Guyger’s trial revealed that Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata asked another police officer to turn off a camera inside a squad car at the scene of the shooting so Guyger and Mata could speak privately. Bo’s law establishes guidelines regarding when a recording can be discontinued.
While not all of the laws passed by the legislature have gone into effect on September 1, 2021, the laws mentioned above have. The state legislature is already hard at work in the second special session working on controversial topics including, bail reform and limits on transgender kids competing on sports teams.
To see a list of all 666 laws passed by the 87th Texas Legislature, Click here.