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From guns to teaching to Sunday beer, new laws will have profound effects

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Sept. 1 of every odd-numbered year marks for Texans the day hundreds of new laws will go into effect after being passed by the Texas Legislature the previous spring. The 87th Legislature concluded in May 2021 after the state’s Republican majority was able to pass several items Gov. Greg Abbott deemed a priority.

Items on that list include bills that loosened gun laws, restricted further access to abortion services and a mandate to public schools on how certain race-related and historical events are taught.

In all more than 650 bills were passed. Below are some of the highlights of the laws taking effect:

Senate Bill 8: The bill prevents doctors from performing abortions as soon as cardiac activity is detected in an embryo — what is usually at about six weeks of gestation, and before many know they are pregnant. It allows exceptions for medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.

The law is unique because it empowers private individuals — rather than legal authorities — to enforce it. Under its provisions, anyone, located anywhere in Texas or beyond, can bring a civil lawsuit against those who violate SB 8.

Though abortion patients can’t be held liable for ending their pregnancies past the six-week window, anyone who “aids or abets” them in doing so is vulnerable to a lawsuit — whether that’s the doctor who performs the procedure, counselors, clinic staff, or the friend or family member who drives them to the clinic.

SB 8 also provides a powerful incentive to sue: plaintiffs who win their case will be awarded a minimum of $10,000. If a defendant wins, meanwhile, the law does not allow them to recover legal fees.

House Bill 3979: This bill limits how public school teachers can discuss and teach current events and the role of racism in U.S. history. Written by state Rep. Steve Toth, R-Woodlands, HB 3979 has been called an effort to ban critical race theory from K-12 classrooms though the bill doesn’t reference the academic term.

Instead, the bill requires that teachers discuss current events “from diverse and contending perspectives.” They cannot teach that certain people are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” or that people are responsible “for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”

Teachers can no longer teach The 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times’ essay series examining slavery’s impact on U.S. history.

Schools cannot give course credit for political activism or lobbying, though the bill doesn’t define what these prohibited activities entail.

SB 2081: Prekindergarten classes are now capped at 22 students, the same class size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade. Many El Paso parents won’t notice a difference, as many districts already capped pre-K classes at 22 kids. 

This bill was one of many wins for early childhood education during the regular session, advocates say. The bill was authored by state Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and state Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, is listed as a co-author of the legislation.

HB 1927: Also known as the Firearm Carry Act of 2021, HB 1927 allows most Texans over age 21 to carry a handgun, either concealed or in a holster, without a license. The passage of the bill makes Texas the 21st state to allow permitless carry. 

The bill requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to develop and post an online course on firearm safety that will be free to the public. Background checks are still required to purchase firearms from licensed dealers but the law also eliminates the requirement that gun owners go through license-to-carry training that includes conflict resolution, proper gun storage and basic shooting proficiency.

El Paso Democrats decried the legislation and said state Republican leaders broke promises they made about addressing gun safety after the Walmart shooting in 2019.

HB 9: Filed in response to the nationwide protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd, a Houston native murdered after being restrained and knelt on by a Minneapolis police officer, the legislation makes it a felony to block an emergency vehicle with sirens or lights flashing.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, El Paso was among the cities that saw large-scale protests, including a clash between police officers and protesters at Memorial Park.

HB 1869: The legislation further restricts the power of local governments to borrow money without voter approval. The bill primarily targets debt instruments known as certificates of obligation, or COs, which is borrowing authorized by elected officials without voter approval. The debt is repaid by property taxes.

As originally drafted, the bill would have greatly restricted the use of new certificates of obligation by requiring local governments to include that money in calculations that determine whether local governments have to ask voters for permission to increase taxes. But the bill was heavily amended as it made its way through the Legislature and allows the continued use of certificates of obligation for road projects, building repairs and infrastructure needs without including the debt in the tax-increase calculation. However, so-called quality-of-life projects funded by COs would now be included in tax-increase calculations.

The new law could impact an El Paso Downtown multipurpose arena overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2012 but delayed by litigation. City officials in 2019 said the cost of that project had risen to at least $250 million. The new law could preclude the city from issuing COs to cover the added costs.

HB 1518: If you’re a fan of the NFL in El Paso, you know that early Sunday games start at 11 a.m. and if you don’t stock up the night before, you’ll need wait until noon to crack a cold one while the Cowboys break your heart yet again. Not anymore. 

Next week, beer and wine will be on sale at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Liquor is still off limits to buy at a liquor store on Sunday.

Border security in SB1, the two-year budget bill: The appropriations bill includes significant budget expansion for border security efforts, increasing 32% beyond the initial planned amount to $1.05 billion. 

This budget includes $57 million for hiring “100 additional border troopers,” and $38 million for “additional border security equipment.” It will also extend the mission of 700 National Guard members. 

In June, Gov. Abbott announced the reallocation of $250 million as a “down payment” toward the cost of building the border wall. He said it would come from the state’s budget, following Abbott’s disaster declaration on the southern border of Texas linked to migration.

Cover photo: Ben Cheng explains the force needed to pull the trigger to his student, Jamie Mogzer, during a private firearms class. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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