AUSTIN, Texas — On Sunday, Sept. 1, hundreds of new laws go into effect that will impact a variety of things from lemonade stands and the legal age to smoke, to abortion and guns.
Three things to know in Texas politics
Governor Greg Abbott had been busy this week working to find solutions to prevent mass shootings in wake of the El Paso massacre that happened earlier this month. On Friday, he convened the first meeting of the Domestic Terrorism Task Force in Austin. And on Thursday, the governor held the second meeting of the Texas Safety Commission in El Paso.
While in El Paso, Abbott spoke for the first time publicly about the language in a fundraising letter sent out the day before the deadly El Paso shooting. The Texas Democratic Party obtained a copy of the letter and sent it to KVUE. It begins with the line, "If we're going to DEFEND Texas, we'll need to take matters into our own hands." And the last line states, "Unless you and I want liberals to succeed in their plan to transform Texas — and our entire country — through illegal immigration, this is a message we MUST send." Before Thursday's safety commission meeting, Abbott told reporters "mistakes" were made in the letter.
The stage is set for the third Democratic presidential debate. Ten candidates will take the stage, including front runner former Vice President Joe Biden and and two Texans, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. The debate will take place on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Texas Southern University in Houston. You can watch it live, on air and online, on KVUE.
Hundreds of new laws now in effect
Hundreds of new state laws go into effect Sunday. Political anchor Ashley Goudeau sat down with Texas Tribune political reporter Patrick Svitek to talk about some of the most interesting and most controversial.
Ashley Goudeau: Patrick good morning, thank you for joining us.
Patrick Svitek: "Thanks for having me."
Goudeau: So hundreds of bills are going into effect today, this is the whole point of having the legislative session, right?
Svitek: "Right. There are actually over 800 bills that are going into effect, they're going to become laws today. Some of them are pretty big, like the state budget. That's going to fund especially big priorities like public school funding, teacher pay raises that we saw over this last legislative session. And then we just have more symbolic measures, less sweeping measures. So they really kind of run the gamut."
Goudeau: So, let's start off by talking about one of the things I think is interesting, one of the things that's not going into effect today that a lot of people maybe thought was, is Senate Bill 2, which is that property tax reform bill that we saw passed. A lot of people expected it to go into effect today, but that's not the case.
Svitek: "It's not going into effect quite yet but still as I said with the budget, some of those priority issues that you saw during the last legislative session, when it comes to kind of laying the financial or the fiscal groundwork for teacher pay raises, for public school finance reform, and I'd argue also for property tax reform, getting the budget into effect is kind of the first step in that process."
Goudeau: There are some other – we were considering them, perhaps, smaller bills, but they got a lot of attention during the legislative session. I think one of the ones that just seems so common sense to people that got a lot of attention was the lemonade stand bill, tell me about this one.
Svitek: "So this is a bill that, as you pointed out, got a lot of attention. Basically, it prohibits neighborhoods and towns and cities from making any regulations that would restrict the ability of kids to sell lemonade, basically sell, you know to be more technical, sell non-alcoholic beverages on private property. And so basically, there's more freedom now for lemonade stands and for kids to sell lemonade on private property."
Goudeau: Some good news for people who have an unexpected medical emergency is one of the bills that goes into effect is essentially going to end surprise medical billing for folks.
Svitek: "Yeah, this addresses disputes where someone's health care provider and their insurance company can't agree on a financial arrangement and so they get hit with a surprise bill as you mentioned. Basically it forces, this legislation in these cases, forces the state-overseen arbitration process, keeping patients out of the fight and hopefully resolving that billing issue."
Goudeau: You know, in this day and age, everyone loves to order stuff off of Amazon. So good news for people is those porch pirates are going to get into way more trouble now.
Svitek: "Yes. Starting today there will be stiffer penalties for people who steal packages off of porches, porch pirates as they're known. Under this new legislation, under this new law, the penalties are going to be as high as a third-degree felony, so basically you're definitely going to see stiffer penalties if you ever think about doing that."
Goudeau: There were a lot of other serious things that passed as well. So when we look at perhaps some of the abortion measures that are going into effect, talk to me about some of those.
Svitek: "There are a number of ones that were very controversial, as they are every legislative session. One of them prohibits state and local governments from contracting with agencies that perform abortions, even if the services that they're contracting for don't include the performance of abortion. And so, that will impact places like Austin, and it was very bitterly fought at the Capitol and you saw a lot of familiar dividing lines pulling politically but it ultimately passed and was signed by the governor and goes into effect today."
Goudeau: Some would argue that this was targeting Austin because there's a Planned Parenthood on the east side of town that is rented out of a city building basically for $1 a year.
Svitek: "Right, exactly. And like I said, this is, even if the contractual arrangement that a local government like Austin has with the Planned Parenthood, for example, doesn't include funding abortions, it still is targeted by this law. So it's a pretty stringent law in that regard."
Goudeau: Right and we want to point out that abortions are not performed at that location, but the argument was, 'Well you're saving them money so that they can perform more abortions.'
Svitek: "Right, exactly. And we've obviously seen this over the past several legislative sessions. You know, legislation, new laws, cracking down on abortion, cracking down on Planned Parenthood in particular and this is just the latest iteration on that."
Goudeau: Another piece of legislation kind of dealing with abortion that passed that was very controversial is the Born Alive Act, that goes into effect as well.
Svitek: "Yeah this would require doctors to treat babies that are born alive after what is a very rare instance in the case of a failed or unsuccessful abortion attempt. There was a lot of heated debate at the capital over this. Democrats said it was driving a false narrative that these situations are commonplace; Republicans said they wanted to address these situations even if they are very extremely rare. It also dovetailed with a big national, political conversation that was happening at the time based on some comments that the Governor of Virginia had made about abortion. This was probably the most controversial – or one of the most controversial pieces of legislation dealing with abortion that came out of this session."
Goudeau: Another very controversial piece of legislation that passed was the "Save Chick-fil-A" bill.
Goudeau: That was the nickname for it, that's how everybody knows it. Tell us about this one.
Svitek: "So this came about after or came about kind of at the same time that there was this debate in San Antonio where the city council decided to bar Chick-fil-A from the airport there. A number of members on the city council obviously had strong disagreements with Chick-fil-A and some of their political giving targeting gay marriage, and some of the social conservative values of the company's leadership. And so, although this was not caused by that dust up, it's kind of coincided with that dust up and that's how it got the 'Save Chick-fil-A' bill that was kind of originally a more general religious liberties bill. But basically, it targets any local government or municipal government that wants to punish or go after a business because of its political beliefs or anything like you would imagine that would happen in the case of Chick-fil-A. So, in some ways it's a very symbolic measure, basically just affirming the rights, the constitutional rights of these companies. But it certainly was one that got a lot of debate in the past session."
Goudeau: Overall, when we think about the system in it of itself, the way that our Texas legislature passes bills, thousands were filed, way less maybe even a 10th of those actually passed. Some say this is what's great about Texas.
Svitek: "Well, you're really seeing the best, the ones that were able to get all the way from start to finish. Especially the ones going into effect today. And so yeah, it's a long arduous process. It only happens every two years in Texas and so, some of these laws that are going into effect today may make you scratch your head a little bit, but rest assured, they definitely went through an extensive vetting process at the Capitol. As long as you have some trust in your elected representatives, these are the best of the best that beat it through."
The Last Word
In this week's The Last Word, Ashley weighs in on a new Texas law that makes it a Class C misdemeanor to send unsolicited sexually explicit visuals.
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