Seven laws passed in Second Special Session of the Texas Legislative Assembly slated to go into effect Thursday, including the sweeping GOP voting and elections bill that has been challenged in six federal lawsuits.
Other new laws include restrictions on abortion, limits on how race can be taught in Texas classrooms, and limits on how big social media companies control content — though the social media law has also been challenged in court, with a hearing scheduled for Monday morning on a request by tech associations to prevent it from taking effect.
On the ballot bill, five of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of two dozen civil rights organizations and advocacy groups as well as six voters. The sixth came from the US Department of Justice.
All of the lawsuits challenge specific sections of Senate Bill 1 as unconstitutional, illegal or discriminatory – including its ban on 24-hour and drive-thru voting, identification requirements for mail-in ballots, protections for partisan poll watchers and limits on what polling places assistance can be given to people with disabilities or limited understanding of language.
None of the lawsuits seek to prevent SB 1 from taking effect immediately; instead, they are focused on overturning the contested provisions before the November 2022 general election. With the trial scheduled for July, that means the March 1 Republican and Democratic primaries will be held under SB 1.
Texas social media crackdown
House Bill 20 would allow social media users to sue if they or their views are blocked or deleted on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. It also gives the state attorney general the power to sue social media companies on behalf of affected users.
The law was inspired by complaints that conservatives are being censored on major social media platforms, particularly after Twitter and Facebook fired President Donald Trump for inciting violence ahead of the 6 January.
“It is now legal that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in September as he signed HB 20.
HB 20 permits legal challenges by anyone who lives in Texas, does business in the state, or “shares or receives content on a social media platform in that state.”
Two tech associations have sued in federal court in Austin, arguing that the law violates companies’ First Amendment right to have editorial discretion over what appears on their websites and will impose onerous legal costs on companies forced to defend countless lawsuits against users.
SB 3 was the second attempt by GOP lawmakers to clamp down on the teaching of critical race theory, which explores how racism has shaped history, politics, the legal system and more.
Although critical race theory is not specifically taught in public schools, Republicans have argued that it produces instruction designed to label white students as racists and promote racial division. Democrats disagreed, saying SB 3 was an attempt to whitewash history by downplaying racism and the contributions of people of color to history.
SB 3 followed a law passed in the regular session of the Legislature that Abbott said didn’t go far enough — HB 3979, which limited how teachers can discuss race and current affairs in social studies courses and prohibited them from awarding course credit for social advocacy or policy work.
SB 3 applies to all classes from kindergarten through high school and requires instructors to teach racial topics “without political bias.” Nor can students be taught that people are consciously or unconsciously racist because of their race or responsible for acts committed by other members of their race.
Some teachers have expressed confusion about the limits of the law, and a Southlake school administrator made headlines last month for saying the law requires teachers to offer opposing perspectives on the Holocaust and other sensitive subjects if their teaching was based on a source of information.
Abortion, dating violence and more
These other laws will come into force on Thursday, 90 days after the end of the second special session:
- SB 4 limits the availability of abortion-inducing drugs, prohibiting their use for patients more than seven weeks pregnant instead of the previous limit of 10 weeks. The law also makes it a crime of state prison for doctors who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs without first conducting an in-person examination. It also prohibits the delivery of these drugs by post or by a delivery service.
- SB 6 prohibits judges from allowing non-cash bail for people charged with violent crimes and people arrested for a crime while out on bail. Several sections of the bill take effect in January, including limits on charities paying bail and the creation of a new system for reporting a defendant’s criminal history and any failure to appear in court after payment of a deposit.
- SB 9 requires classroom instruction on how to prevent child abuse, family violence, dating violence, and sex trafficking at least once in middle school and once in high school. Abbott added the issue to the second special session after vetoing a similar measure in the regular session, saying lawmakers hadn’t given parents the ability to have their children skip class. With SB 9 requiring students to receive parental permission before attending class, Abbott signed the bill Sept. 17.
A superfluous law
A law taking effect Thursday will not be necessary.
SB 13 would have delayed the Texas primaries if lawmakers needed more time to finalize redistricting maps to account for population changes identified in the 2020 census. These district maps — for the House and the Texas Senate, U.S. House, and state Board of Education — were approved in the third special session and signed into law, keeping March 1 as the date for the GOP and Democratic primaries.
Several other bills passed during the second special session took immediate effect, including legislation granting an additional month’s pay to members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.