New laws go into effect: Distracted driving, cyber bullying and more

Laws that will affect every Texan have gone into effect this month, with several aiming to proactively save lives.

Nearly 700 new laws tackling issues such as texting while driving, cyber bullying and school lunches went into effect Sept. 1.

However, laws regarding the ban of sanctuary cities, as well as a ban on second-term abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, were blocked by judges just days before they were set to go into effect.

The sanctuary cities bill drew the attention of groups like Mano Amiga, and is currently facing a legal challenge from civil rights groups which say it could lead to constitutional rights violations of citizens and noncitizens alike.

Other laws were able to pass despite the controversy surrounding them.

House Bill 3895 allows faith-based child welfare providers to be allowed to deny adoptions and other services based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

The law would allow faith-based organizations to place a child in a religious school and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Texas lawmakers also crafted House Bill 4, a Child Protective Services reform bill that provided extra funding to relatives or caregivers fostering children based on their family income.

The law will make it easier for relatives and caregivers to be able to look after foster children as the state faces a CPS crisis.

Other laws focused on the safety and welfare of children were passed. One of those is David’s Law, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor to harass someone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media, websites or other electronic venues with the intent to cause harm or to cause suicide.

The law would also allow people to acquire temporary restraining orders against accounts used to harass or bully children.

The state also created a grace period for parents to pay existing balances on school lunch for their children. The law allows students to continue eating hot lunches before they are “lunch shamed” by being given cold sandwiches.

Senate Bill 968 and Senate Bill 969, both authored by State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), aim to increase reporting of sexual assault on college campuses. SB 968 requires universities to include an online reporting option for anyone who wants to anonymously report sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking, or feels too intimidated to address their concerns to an administrator in person. 

SB 969 protects students from disciplinary action regarding alcohol use if they are victims or witnesses of incidents involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking. 

House Bill 4102 also seeks to help survivors of sexual assault.

Although it is not specific to college campuses, this new law, authored by State Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) creates an opportunity for people to donate money for rape kit testing while renewing their driver’s licenses or registering their vehicles.

The state has a backlog of 19,000 untested rape kits from before 2011.

See a list of new laws here.

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