AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Legislature passed almost 800 laws this past year with many taking effect on Sept. 1, 2023.
Here is a quick look at just some of the new laws that may affect you and your family.
New Texas laws on education
'Sexually explicit' books: House Bill 900 brings a big change that will happen in school libraries. By next April, book vendors will have to assign ratings to books based on depictions or references to sex. Books deemed “sexually explicit” would be removed from bookshelves. Those deemed “sexually relevant” will require parents’ permission for the student to check out.
Distributing 'harmful material': House Bill 4520 says that educators could lose their teaching certificate and disqualify them from receiving retirement benefits for selling, distributing or displaying “harmful material” to a minor. Harmful material is defined as material with a dominant theme taken as a whole:
- appeals to the prurient interest of a minor, in sex, nudity, or excretion;
- is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
- is utterly without redeeming social value for minors.”
Crown Act: House Bill 567 bans race-based hair discrimination in education, among other areas, and covers styles like locs and braids. Two students from the Houston area inspired the change in law after they were told to cut their hair or face discipline.
Teaching materials: House Bill 1605 will give parents access to the materials teachers use to teach their kids. It’ll also set aside nearly $800 million to invest in open-source, high-quality instructional materials to save teachers planning time.
Chaplins in school: Senate Bill 763 allows for unlicensed religious chaplains to counsel students in public schools. The bill allows schools to use safety funds to pay for chaplains, but volunteers are also allowed.
New Texas laws on school safety
Armed officers at schools: House Bill 3 requires schools to have armed officers or armed staff members and train staff to ID students who may need mental health support. Lawmakers gave districts flexibility in meeting those requirements. All classrooms will be required to have silent panic buttons. The Texas Education Agency and Texas School Safety Center will now be required to jointly assess campuses’ security at least once every four years.
Active shooter training certification: Senate Bill 999 requires that providers of active shooter training at public schools and institutions of higher education must be certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
New Texas laws on higher education
Ban on diversity programs: Senate Bill 17 bans diversity, equity and inclusion offices, programs, and training at publicly-funded universities.
University boycotts: Senate Bill 1517 prohibits public colleges and universities from implementing academic boycotts of foreign countries if it prevents students and faculty from conducting research or interacting with their scholars. A university may only boycott a foreign country if the country is on the U.S. State Department’s list of state-sponsored terrorism. Universities may not prevent students from studying in these countries though.
Tenured faculty: Senate Bill 18 requires a board of regents of an institution of higher learning to adopt rules and procedures regarding tenure for faculty. These rules must also address the dismissal of tenured faculty for reasons like “professional incompetence” and “repeatedly failed to perform duties.” Tenured faculty will also now be subjected to regular reviews of their performance.
New Texas laws affecting the LGBTQ+ community
Transitioning healthcare for children: Senate Bill 14 bans transgender youth from accessing transitioning healthcare like puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
Regulate sexually-oriented performances: Senate Bill 12 gives the authority to regulate sexually-oriented performances and to restrict those performances on the premises of a commercial enterprise, on public property, or in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age; authorizing a civil penalty; creating a criminal offense.
'Save Women's Sports Act': Senate Bill 15 prohibits transgender athletes from competing on college teams that match their gender identity. Athletes are required to compete on teams based on their “biological sex” or that was “correctly stated” on their birth certificate. Females are still allowed to complete on male teams if no female team is not offered or available.
New Texas laws on elections
Election irregularities: Senate Bill 1933 allows the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to investigate election “irregularities” in counties with more than four million people. Harris County is the only area that qualifies under this new law.
Abolishing elections administrator: Senate Bill 1750 abolished the county elections administrator position in certain counties with a population of 3.5 million or more. In this case, the law only applied to Harris County.
The powers and authority are transferred to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk. The county tax assessor-collector shall serve as the voter registrar, and the duties and functions of the county clerk that were performed by the administrator revert to the county clerk.
Ballot scan system: Senate Bill 1661 allows counties to continue to use the vote-counting equipment at the center county station that they already have as opposed to upgrading to a system that "once a cast vote record is written, is incapable of being modified."
Mail-in ballots: Senate Bill 1599 removes some of the obstacles in casting a mail-in ballot in Texas that could lead to the ballot being rejected. Election officials are required to notify voters of errors on their mail-in ballot application or mail-in ballot. It also requires election officials to instruct voters on how to return their corrected forms by mail, in person, or through the state’s online tracking tool.
New Texas laws on crime
Murder and capital murder cases: Senate Bill 402 requires trial courts to give preference to hearings and trials for murder and capital murder offenses in an effort to cut down on the backlog.
'Athena Alerts:' House Bill 3556 allows law enforcement to sidestep requirements for a statewide AMBER Alert for a missing child and allows them to instead issue regional alerts within 100 miles of where the child was last seen. The law was inspired by the death of Athena Strand.
'Caleb's Law:' Senate Bill 129 imposes tougher penalties for child pornography and is named for Caleb Diehl, who vanished in North Texas in 2015 and is still missing. A family friend who was named a person of interest in Caleb's disappearance pleaded guilty to federal charges after pictures of Caleb being sexually abused were found on his computer. Felony offenders will be prosecuted based on the number of images they are discovered to be in possession of as well as in what capacity they obtained the images.
'The Natalia Cox Act:' Senate Bill 1325 helps create a written notice that can be given to the victims of domestic violence to assist them in attaining services leading to protection and shelter. The law is named for the Huston-Tillotson University student who was killed in her apartment in March 2021.
Increasing human trafficking penalty: House Bill 3554 increases the penalty of human trafficking to a first-degree felony if the offense is committed at certain locations like schools, child-care facilities or shelters.
Stalking crime expanded: Senate Bill 1717 broadens the definition of and expands the repercussions for the criminal offense of stalking.
Harassment: House Bill 1427 expands the prosecution of harassment to include electronic communications from temporary or disposable phones.
New Texas laws related to courts
Removal of prosecuting attorneys: House Bill 17 allows courts to remove district attorneys for misconduct if they choose to not prosecute a type of criminal offense under state law or they instruct law enforcement to refuse to arrest individuals suspected of committing the type of offense.
Leaked rulings: Senate Bill 372 makes it a criminal offense for anyone other than a judge or justice to release or leak a court decision. This is now a Class A misdemeanor.
District clerks with guns: Senate Bill 599 would allow district and county clerks to carry a handgun to work. House Bill 2291 also allows some retired judges and justices to carry a handgun.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant Act: Senate Bill 997 makes it a crime to publish or release certain photographs of human remains by first responders, coroners, medical examiners and certain other employees for a purpose other than an official purpose.
New Texas law related to COVID-19
Ban on COVID-related mandates: Senate Bill 29 prohibits local governments from requiring COVID-related masks, vaccines, or business shutdowns.
New Texas laws relating to fentanyl
Murder charges: House Bill 6 allows a prosecutor to charge a person with murder for distributing a fentanyl-laced drug if it leads to the victim’s death. Deaths caused by fentanyl also will be classified as fentanyl toxicity or fentanyl poisoning on a person’s death certificate.
NARCAN for universities: Senate Bill 867 allows for the distribution of Narcan, a treatment for opioid poisoning, to Texas colleges and universities.
New Texas law for homeowners
HOA discrimination: House Bill 1193 prohibits a homeowners association from discriminating against residents based on “method of payment” like a housing voucher under Section 8 and housing assistance.
New Texas laws for drivers
‘Bentley’s Law:’ House Bill 393 requires people convicted of intoxication manslaughter to make restitution payments for the support of a child whose parent or guardian is a victim. It is named for a similar law passed in other states stemming from a case in Missouri.
Crackdown on illegal street racing: Senate Bill 1442 enhances penalties for those taking part in illegal street racing, while House Bill 2899 allows vehicles used in illegal street racing to be impounded. The law removes the requirement that there has to be property damage or if someone suffering bodily injury for the vehicle to be impounded.
Failure to identify: Senate Bill 1551 makes failing to identify a criminal offense. That means if a driver fails to provide their driver’s license or does not provide their name, date of birth and address to an officer, they could be charged with a Class B or C misdemeanor.
Speed limits: House Bill 1885 allows engineers with the Texas Department of Transportation to temporarily change speed limits of portions of roads and highways due to construction or inclement weather. This is in response to the deadly 133-vehicle pileup on Interstate 35 in Fort Worth in February 2021.
Electric vehicle registration fee: Senate Bill 505 requires owners of electric vehicles to pay an additional $200 fee when they register their vehicle or renew their registration. The fee is doubled for owners registering a new vehicle since they have to pay two year’s worth.
New Texas laws for consumers
Repealing the 'Tampon Tax:' Senate Bill 379 exempts some family health products such as menstrual products or diapers and other childcare necessities from sales tax.
New rules for data brokers: Senate Bill 2105 requires the registration of data brokers and establishes new requirements for them, including a civil penalty and authorization fee.
Other notable Texas laws
Military preference: Senate Bill 1376 says spouses of members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Texas National Guard are eligible for military preference in hiring for positions at state agencies.
No drones: Senate Bill 1308 makes it a criminal offense to fly a drone or unmanned aircraft near an airport or military installation. This is now a Class B misdemeanor or Class A if a person has been convicted before of the crime. House Bill 3075 also makes it a criminal offense to fly a drone over a correctional facility or detention facility.
Church security: Senate Bill 694 provides immunity from civil liability to any religious organization or a security employee or volunteer in the security services provided to the organization.
Hunting restrictions expanded: Senate Bill 1236 expands hunter restrictions by making it illegal to shoot a firearm or use archery equipment while on the banks of navigable rivers and streams. There are some exceptions like when legally taking an alligator or killing a venomous snake.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that House Bill 718 went into effect on September 1. It actually goes into effect in July 2025. The law allows car dealerships to keep metal license plates on hand to avoid giving out temporary paper ones.