New laws taking effect in Texas

Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via APTexas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during an interview at the Texas Governor’s Mansion last month in Austin. 

The new year means new laws, with changes to vehicle registration, human trafficking and high school graduation being the most notable. Other laws address campaign finance reports and lobbyists. Parts of some bills were implemented in 2017, with the remainder being implemented in 2019.

More courts to address caseloads

As the Texas population continues to grow, adding 400,000 new Texans in 2017, more courts are needed to address the increased number of court cases.

SB 1329 will add more courts across the state and changes the jurisdictions for some courts. The bill requires the oath made by certain judicial officers and appointees to be filed with the secretary of state and expands the group of bailiffs required to swear to a statutory oath. The bill also revises provisions relating to bailiff appointments, criteria for eligibility, and salary in certain district courts and relating to certain adoption and child support proceedings. The bill increases from $10 to $25 the fee for the issuance of an attorney’s license or certificate.

In Walker County, the bill revises the jurisdiction of the county court of law allowing it the same jurisdiction as the district court with family law cases and proceedings.

Portions of the law were implemented in Sept. 2017, which gave the state jurisdiction over mental health matters.

Laws relating to human trafficking and prostitution

House Bill 29 mandates that sexually oriented businesses must post notices about human trafficking in their bathrooms. It would be a misdemeanor if not implemented. The law also increases penalties for crimes relating to prostitution. The bill will cancel the disbanding of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention task force.

The bill sets out provisions regarding the procedures for investigating civil racketeering related to the trafficking of persons and regarding a civil investigative demand for evidence in such an investigation and establishes a misdemeanor offense for the deliberate noncompliance with such a demand.

The bill requires certain commercial driver’s license training programs to include education and training on recognizing and preventing human trafficking. The law will reimburse certain costs for criminal victims who are children and the release and reporting of certain information relating to a child.

Additionally, it will also prioritize legal hearings related to human trafficking. Much of HB 29 has been in effect since Sept. 2017, but the Business and Commerce codes will not take effect until Mar. 1.

Changes to vehicle titles

Senate bill 2076 amends the tax code and transportation code to revise provisions relating to vehicle titling requirements, the assignment and reassignment of a vehicle identification number by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicle (TxDMV) and the issuance of a title for trailers and semi trailers. The bill sets out the circumstances under which a motor vehicle, trailer or semi trailer is required to have an identification number inspection and provides for the identification number inspection process and the authority of TxDMV to establish an alternative identification number inspection process. The bill revises “the process for an owner or lienholder of a motor vehicle to obtain a certified copy of a lost or destroyed title.”

The law now states that the Texas Department of motor vehicles will issue a certified copy rather than an original title if you are the first lien owner, unless the owner has the original proof from the lion owner.

High school graduation requirements

SB 463 prevents school districts from administering the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. The exam was replaced with end of course (EOC) exams in 2007.

The bill develops a procedure under which a public school may award a diploma to eligible students who entered ninth grade before the 2011-2012 school year based on the completion of alternative graduation requirements. The bill requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in coordination with the Texas Education Agency, to collect certain data relating to the post-graduation pursuits of each student who is awarded a diploma based on the determination of an individual graduation committee and requires the coordinating board to provide a report to the legislature that includes a summary compilation of that data.

The law will not take effect until Sept. 1, when some of these provisions are set to expire, including the requirement that “districts and charter schools establish individual graduation committees for students who failed to pass one or two required EOC exams.”

Limits on lobbyists

HB 505 limits the use of campaign funds by former officeholders who are now registered lobbyists. The law states that lobbyists cannot knowingly make or authorize political contributions to candidates or officeholders from funds the lobbyist received while in office.

The law applies to a two year period following the lobbyists last term in office. However, a person is not prohibited from making a political contribution or political expenditure in support of the person’s own candidacy.

Campaign finance reporting

HB 501 will take effect Jan. 8, expanding the financial activity a public officer or candidate must report in a personal financial statement filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The candidate must report certain business associations if they own, acquired or sold five percent or more of a business and information on written contracts with government entities. Under certain conditions, they’ll be allowed to amend their personal financial statement. Finally the bill provides information on certain issuances under the Public Security Procedures Act for members of the legislature who provide bond counsel services.

The 86th Texas Legislature will convene for the 2019 session on Jan. 8. 

Trace Harris writes for The Huntsville Item, a CNHI newspaper.