What to know about new Texas laws you may have missed, taking effect on Sept. 1

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Thursday, August 31, 2023
New Texas laws: What Texans should know about 774 laws passed this year that go into effect Sept. 1
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Starting Sept. 1, 774 laws that were approved during the 2023 legislative session will go into effect. From major changes to laws you might have missed, here's everything you need.

When September begins, all of the laws passed by the Texas Legislature in 2023 will go into effect.

From speed limit changes to electric vehicle fees, these are some of the new laws you may have missed. All 774 will officially be enforced starting Sept. 1, 2023.

Medical professionals must now tell families 25 days before ending life support care -- House Bill 3162

In Texas, hospitals can withdraw life support from their patients 10 days after they notify the patient's family. Under the contentious Texas Advance Directives Act, life support can be removed when the hospital determines current care as "futile."

Starting Friday, House Bill 3162 will increase how much notice hospitals have to give patients' families from 10 days to 25 days. That new threshold will now begin when medical professionals tell relatives of their intent to end care and give family members an opportunity to find a different health care facility willing to treat the patient. If the family wants to move the patient to another facility, doctors must perform any procedures necessary for a patient to be transferred.

The new law also requires hospitals to track and report to the Health and Human Services Commission when doctors are withdrawing life-sustaining care.

Texas can apply to contract Canadian drug wholesalers to import lower-priced medications -- House Bill 25

Texans struggling with skyrocketing medication costs could see relief under a new program that allows distributors to import cheaper drugs from Canada.

House Bill 25 creates the "Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation Program." The state's Health and Human Services Commission would contract with Canadian drug wholesalers and suppliers to bring safe, eligible prescription drugs to Texas consumers at prices far cheaper than U.S. wholesalers.

Although the law technically goes into effect on Sept. 1, federal drug regulators are moving at a glacial pace to set up programs with the states that want them. Texas won't have its program fully designed until next year, much less approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and implemented, state health officials say.

Rural sheriff's departments pay - Senate Bill 22

A new law aimed at increasing pay within sheriff's departments in rural Texas could help solve staffing woes.

Senate Bill 22, sponsored by Muenster Republican Sen. Drew Springer, established a grant system that will boost rural law enforcement efforts by $330 million. The amount of money a county receives annually is determined by its population size. Once awarded, counties can spend the money on raising minimum salaries and purchasing new equipment. The law similarly puts aside funds for prosecutors' offices that are decided by the size of the jurisdiction.

Before a county can use the money on gear, however, it must meet the minimum pay requirements for select law enforcement roles - sheriffs must earn $75,000, deputies $45,000, and jailers $40,000.

The state's comptroller will review applications and monitor the disbursement and use of that money.

Emergency telemedicine medical services and telehealth services in rural areas - House Bill 617

A pilot program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has the potential to solve many concerns facing rural health care in West Texas. And the program is getting a boost from the Texas Legislature.

The program - established by House Bill 617, spearheaded by Republican state Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo - provides emergency telemedicine medical services and telehealth services in rural areas by installing secure video calls and wireless patient monitoring in ambulances already in transit to an emergency room.

This allows a physician participating in the program to review the patient's condition and symptoms remotely, then make a recommendation on how the ambulance crew can treat them until they get to the nearest treatment facility.

Walking on roads allowed when sidewalks are blocked or unsafe - House Bill 1277

As Texas faced frigid temperatures during a February 2021 winter storm and snow and ice made sidewalks and roads impassable, 18-year-old Rodney "R.J." Reese was arrested by Plano police officers for walking on a road while heading home from work.

The Black teen was charged with a Class C misdemeanor, accused of violating a section of the state's transportation code that makes it illegal to walk on a roadway if there is a sidewalk - a law that will change on Sept. 1.

Body camera footage from the day of Reese's arrest shows that the sidewalk and the neighborhood street were both covered by ice. Social justice advocates alleged that Reese's arrest was racially motivated, according to news reports.

Charges against Reese were dropped after he spent a night in jail.

The incident spurred Texas lawmakers to reexamine the law that led to Reese's arrest and pass House Bill 1277.

Under the existing law, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic if there's no sidewalk available. HB 1277 allows pedestrians to walk on roadways facing oncoming traffic if sidewalks are obstructed or unsafe.

Potholes, fallen trees, pools of water and weather conditions can all make sidewalks unusable, said Savannah Kumar, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas.

Fentanyl awareness curriculum for public schools - House Bill 3908

Texas is about to launch its latest anti-drug program in schools. Earlier this year, the state launched "One Pill Kills," a multimedia campaign designed to warn Texans about the unlawful use of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Reinforcing that message is a new law passed this year - House Bill 3908 - which requires fentanyl and drug abuse prevention instruction in Texas public schools for grades six through 12.

The measure - named Tucker's Law after Tucker Roe, a 19-year-old from Leander who died after taking a fentanyl-laced pill - went into effect in June and also requires Gov. Greg Abbott to designate a Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Week in public schools.

Studies on the D.A.R.E. program in the 1990s pointed out that the anti-drug curriculum failed because it didn't acknowledge that youth drug use is often a symptom of a larger mental health problem.

Many students who have a substance abuse disorder have had a negative experience in their childhood, and being taught healthy ways to manage their emotions could prevent them from turning to drugs.

Some mental health providers in Texas worry the state's new emphasis on fentanyl education will be a repeat of the D.A.R.E. program mistakes made decades ago.

Speed limit may vary based on local highway conditions - House Bill 1885

House Bill 1885, signed into law this June, empowers local Texas Department of Transportation engineers - without approval from the statewide transportation commissioners - to temporarily change speed limits for a portion of a road or highway. The variable speed limit can be applied during roadway construction and maintenance, as well as inclement weather conditions like heavy fog, ice or rain.

The altered speed limit would be in effect only when it's posted on signs notifying drivers of the change and it can't be lower than 10 miles under the regular speed limit.

Electric vehicle drivers have to pay an extra $200 registration fee a year - Senate Bill 505

State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 505, which requires electric vehicle owners to pay the fee when they register a vehicle or renew their registration. It's being imposed because lawmakers said EV drivers weren't paying their fair share into a fund that helps cover road construction and repairs across Texas.

The cost will be especially high for those who purchase a new electric vehicle and have to pay two years of registration, or $400, up front.

Texas agencies estimated in a 2020 report that the state lost an average of $200 per year in federal and state gasoline tax dollars when an electric vehicle replaced a gas-fueled one. The agencies called the fee "the most straightforward" remedy.

Gasoline taxes go to the State Highway Fund, which the Texas Department of Transportation calls its "primary funding source." Electric vehicle drivers don't pay those taxes, though, because they don't use gasoline.

Still, EV drivers do use the roads. And while electric vehicles make up a tiny portion of cars in Texas for now, that fraction is expected to increase.

Drivers must be notified when when electronic tag automatic payments are rejected - House Bill 2170

During this year's regular legislative session, lawmakers filed at least nine toll-related bills, including proposals that sought to cap fines and fees, eliminate misdemeanor charges for delinquent users and make toll roads free to use once the bonds issued to build them are repaid. Only one of those bills, House Bill 2170, became law. It requires toll entities to notify users with electronic tags when an automatic payment is rejected. The law takes effect Sept. 1.

The Texas Department of Transportation and the North Texas Tollway Authority said they took no official position on the failed toll-related bills discussed during the session.

Activist groups that seek reforms to the state's toll roads say the new law will be an improvement, but they expressed frustration with the lack of a statewide limit on how high fees and fines can go. Toll operators, for their part, say they are receptive to user experience issues, but in the past they've argued for keeping harsher penalties to deter nonpayment. Transportation experts say regional authorities also resist changing how they operate toll roads because they're a reliable economic resource that helps pay for other mobility improvements.

HB 2170, the only toll-related law passed this year, requires each toll entity in the state to notify users immediately by mail, email or text message when a payment is rejected. It also mandates toll entities to send the invoice by mail with a clear message outside the envelope indicating it contains a bill that must be paid.

All counties, regardless of population, must extend early-voting hours on weekdays and weekends - House Bill 1217

Elections officials in some of Texas' small counties, already strapped for resources, could face a shortage of poll workers in 2024 because of strenuous new requirements passed this year by the Legislature that force them to expand their hours and days for early voting.

House Bill 1217, authored by Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from East Texas, requires all counties, regardless of population, to extend early-voting hours on weekdays and weekends. Large counties in the state already offered these extended hours, but now counties with populations of 55,000 or less must comply.

While the new law is intended to give voters in rural areas more convenience and opportunities to cast their ballots, the new requirements may be nearly impossible for some counties to pull off, election administrators told Votebeat. Local taxpayers will foot the bill for the extra costs, as the legislation provided very little additional funding.

The number of required days and hours depends on the election. This November, when Texas is holding several municipal and constitutional amendment elections, the required hours are only slightly increased: The main early-voting location (typically the county courthouse or the elections office) must be open for 12 consecutive hours on the last two days of early voting - Thursday and Friday.

Next year, for the March primary and the November general elections, the main early voting location must be open for 12 hours every weekday during the last week of early voting. Additionally it must be open for 12 hours on the last Saturday and six hours on the last Sunday.

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.