The Texas legislature passed those laws during the second called session, which lasted two weeks after many Democrats returned from a quorum break they had initiated at the outset of the first called session in July. A quorum was restored in the Texas House on August 19 and the second called session gaveled out on September 2.
The Texas Constitution requires that a bill take effect no sooner than 90 days after the session in which it was passed gavels out. The only exceptions are for the appropriations bill and for cases where two-thirds of the Texas Senate and Texas House agree to set the effective date earlier.
The following is a sample of the laws that took effect at 12:00 a.m. on Thursday.
Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), also known as the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, finally made its way through the Texas legislature at the end of August. Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) carried the bill in the Texas House.
The 76-page bill adds provisions designed to prevent fraud by adding criminal statutes, prohibiting unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, and setting additional ground rules for early voting and voter registration. Opponents of the law believe it is designed to make voting more difficult and discourage turnout.
Democrats scuttled an earlier version of the bill in May at the end of the regular session. When Abbott called a special session in July, most of the Democratic caucus fled the state to preempt consideration of a new version. The remaining lawmakers, the GOP caucus and a handful of Democrats who stayed behind, were unable to transact any business except a daily prayer.
After the first special session, Abbott called a second special session in August. Members of the Democratic caucus feuded with one another after enough of them returned on August 19 to give the Texas House a quorum, clearing the way for the passage of SB 1.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on September 7.
Another election-related item, Senate Bill (SB) 13, sets the dates for the upcoming election cycle based on the timeline of completion for redistricting, which was finalized in October during the third special session.
Pursuant to the law, the filing deadline to run in a primary is December 13. The primary election is set for March 1 and the runoff election is scheduled for May 24.
Social Media Censorship
House Bill (HB) 20, advocated primarily by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), is a bill designed to combat social media censorship of political viewpoints and other speech. The bill received both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.
The law will apply to social media companies with more than 50 million active users. It prevents content-based censorship and opens social media companies to litigation if they are accused of violating the law.
HB 20 defines “censor” as “to block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.”
Two trade associations have taken the State of Texas to court over HB 20, claiming the law infringes the ability of social media companies to remove “harmful or objectionable” material such as “hate speech” and “misinformation.”
Supporters of laws like HB 20 point to the selective application of social media companies’ policies, such as the fact that former President Trump is currently banned from Twitter for life, while the Taliban is allowed to use the platform.
Chemical Abortion Restrictions
Senate Bill (SB) 4 was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville). The law adds to the list of complications that doctors must report after prescribing medications for chemical abortions. It also prohibits chemical abortions if the unborn child has reached 49 days or more of gestation, among other restrictions.
Proponents of the law believe it will help protect pregnant women and unborn children, while opponents, such as Planned Parenthood of Texas, believe it is part of an attack on the right to have an abortion.
Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) authored a bill that provides for additional instruction on domestic violence, child abuse, sex trafficking, and related issues in the public school system.
Huffman also authored a bail reform law, portions of which will take effect Thursday. SB 6 is intended to prevent judges from granting release on bail to persons accused of certain violent crimes. The law is named after the late Damon Allen, a state trooper murdered by a violent criminal who had been released on bail in Smith County.
The law also creates a statewide database with information including the public safety risk and pending criminal cases against defendants.
“SB 6 is a game changer. We have all seen the horrible consequences of current bail practices throughout Texas, and I am hopeful that SB 6 will help mitigate these seemingly preventable tragedies,” Huffman said in a press release after the law’s passage in August.
“Over the coming months we will monitor the bill’s implementation to ensure that the process is working as intended and is efficient for the judicial system. This is a tremendous first step toward addressing our State’s broken bail system.”
Critical Race Theory
Hughes also authored SB 3, which is designed to create additional requirements for civics education in Texas public schools and prevent the teaching of critical race theory. Hughes’ bill sought to correct a similar bill by Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) that had been passed during the regular session.
Among other reforms, it also requires teachers to present a variety of perspectives on controversial issues and provides that instructional materials must be accessible to parents.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.