As Texas reels from the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, hundreds of new state laws will go into effect Friday, including a statewide ban on texting while driving.
By the time the 2017 Legislature gaveled out in May, they had sent Gov. Greg Abbott more than 670 bills with a Sept. 1 effective date that he opted not to veto.
Those bills include House Bill 62, a statewide texting-while-driving ban that creates a misdemeanor offense for the operator of a motor vehicle who uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating the vehicle, unless the vehicle is stopped. First-time violators could be fined up to $99 or $200 for a repeat offense.
Another law — one that has drawn concern among some Harvey victims — is House Bill 1774, which could reduce the penalties insurance companies face for late payments if a policyholder files a lawsuit. Under the law taking effect today — intended to cut down on frivolous insurance lawsuits — those penalties would drop from 18 percent of the claim to a rate determined by a market-based formula and capped at 20 percent.
Yet two of the most high-profile bills of the legislative session will not go into effect today as intended because of federal injunctions issued this week at the request of critics of those measures.
On Wednesday, a federal judge halted major provisions of Senate Bill 4, which seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for local governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws. As passed, it forbids police chiefs, sheriffs, and jail administrators from preventing law enforcement officers from asking about a person’s immigration status during an arrest or detention. It also requires jail officials honor all requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to hold an inmate for possible deportation.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia halted the part of the bill that required jail officials to honor all detainers. He let stand the part of the law allowing police officers to question the immigration status of people they detain but said officers are limited in what they can do with that information.
On Thursday, a different federal judge temporarily stopped Texas officials from enforcing Senate Bill 8, which banned the most common second-trimester abortion procedure. With the injunction in place, Texas doctors and health care providers can continue using the dilation and evacuation procedure – deemed the safest by medical professionals for second-trimester abortions — until a more permanent decision is made by the court.
Here's a handful of other laws taking effect today:
- New school buses must have shoulder-to-lap seat belts for all riders (SB 693)
- When Texans get or renew their driver's licenses, they will have the option to donate $1 or more to fund the testing of thousands of backlogged rape kits. (HB 1729)
- Fees to obtain handgun licenses have dropped from $140 to $40. (SB 16)
- Financial institutions now have more power to stop transactions they suspect are aimed at defrauding elderly or disabled clients. (HB 3921)
- It is now legal for Texans to carry more kinds of knives in public. (HB 1935)
- With the help of a measure dubbed David’s Law, school officials hope they will have more tools at their disposal to fight cyberbullying. (SB 179)
- Under a newly created loophole in state law, school employees can give leftover food to hungry students. (SB 725)