5 Questionable Laws That Go Into Effect This Week
The biennial state legislature didn't do as its ancestors did and bring in a giant Lady Liberty statue this session, but it did come up with some legislation that has been signed into law.
Photo from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
The 84th Texas Legislature got just over 1,200 pieces of legislation processed and then signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. Some of these new ideas actually turned into some pretty decent laws, as we've recently noted. But then there were the other laws, the ones that brought us back down to reality with a thump. Many of the new laws, the good, the bad and the unsightly, go into effect on Tuesday. We've already looked at some of the better ones, so now we give you five laws that are questionable at best:
5. The one that makes it harder to get state aid for college if you're middle class. For a long time, Texas grants have been a crucial part of how students cobble together enough money to be able to go to college. While some financial aid is restricted to those who are solidly in the lower-income brackets, the state has long offered funding through six aid programs that allow people with parents who make more than $60,000 a year to qualify for the grants. (While $60,000 per year may sound like the sort of salary that can pay for college, keep in mind that college has gotten crazy expensive in recent years, and it wasn't exactly cheap to begin with.) But there's been a shift away from these programs that are actually open to middle-class students, and now the state legislature has really put its foot on the gas by deciding to phase out two programs, the B-On-Time loan system and the Top Ten Percent Scholarships, that were open to students no matter how much their parents made. B-On-Time is a no-interest loan system, and the Top Ten Percent program rewarded students who graduated in, you know, the top 10 percent of their high school with a scholarship. Meanwhile, money is going into other financial aid programs, but it's focused on only lower-income students.
4. The one that does away with Planned Parenthood's government-subsidized cancer screenings. The state legislature, in an effort to get Planned Parenthood detached from the state and federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, got clever this time around and went through the state budget. Lawmakers added a requirement to the budget that made it a rule that clinics tied to abortion providers can't get any taxpayer dollars to fund cervical and breast cancer screenings. The measure passed, and now all the women in Texas who relied on Planned Parenthood clinics — more than 2,000 of about 30,000 women who used the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program to get screened in Texas in 2014 — will have to find some other place to get checked out. And the thing that really makes this new law ridiculous? Well, the 17 Planned Parenthood clinics that were signed on with the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program were already not allowed to perform abortions because of a state law that prohibits any clinic from accepting taxpayer dollars and performing abortions. There's really nothing left to say on this one. Of course, state Republicans decided to boot Planned Parenthood out of this program and of course it's the women who actually used the cancer screening program who will be the ones to suffer.
3. The one that lets people off easy when they bring concealed handguns to the airport. We've always wondered how exactly someone forgets that he or she is always packing heat and, in this day and age, only remembers when the gun is discovered by airport security. Maybe that would have made sense in the days of the Old West, but the cowboys from back then never had to deal with the crazy stress that is the Transportation Security Administration. Since we have trouble buying that anyone would seriously forget about his concealed firearm, the new law giving lenience to those who accidentally bring their concealed weapons with them to the airport really makes us raise our eyebrows. Once the law goes into effect on Tuesday, it will be a viable defense to say you only trotted your weapon through airport security on accident as long as you immediately notify airport security as soon as you remember that you have a friggin' gun. And as long as you exit, officers won't be able to arrest you or anything. This isn't necessarily the worst idea ever, per se, but it still seems strange to make it any less of a big deal to show up at an airport armed.
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2. The one where we're spending millions on border security. Texas lawmakers, the Republican ones in particular, certainly love the whole border security thing. In fact, they love it so much that they approved a state budget that spends about $800 million on border security. About half of the money is going directly into hiring more Department of Public Safety troopers to send to the border. The thing that truly addles us about this is that border troopers will get paid very nice salaries — up to $89,000 per year — to hang around the border and look for immigrants.
As with that "border surge" thing we had after immigrants, mostly from Central America, started walking into the United States in record numbers back in 2013, the troopers won't be there to do anything else. They won't be investigating murders or dealing with local crime or things like that, according to the Texas Tribune. On the upside, at least we (hopefully) will stop using the National Guard troops that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was so vocally supportive of earlier this year. The DPS itself pointed out at the time that the state could save a lot of money — National Guard troops were costing $2.5 million per month to maintain on the border — by using technology like cameras and such to watch the border.
We do have to wonder why the technology angle didn't come up more when House Bill 11 was passed allowing the DPS to hire 250 new troopers and support staff for border operations. So now the state is spending millions that could have gone to other things (ahem, like education) on border troopers. We hope this pays off, but we have no clue how it will actually manage to do that.
1. The one that changes how politicians are prosecuted. After former-Gov. Rick Perry was indicted on charges of corruption and abuse of power, new Gov. Greg Abbott called on the Lege to do some reforming and change the state's ethics laws. Plenty of things are changing. For one thing, the Travis County Public Integrity Unity — the one that Perry cut off funding from when the Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, refused to resign after she was caught on video in a very well-publicized bit of public drunkenness — will no longer be handling the investigations of public corruption committed in the state Capitol. Now the investigations will be taken care of by a new public integrity unit set up under the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. This alone is pretty interesting since it reads as a clear move to essentially wipe away every trace of the public corruption unit that investigated Perry.
The Lege also wiped out the Travis County DA's office funding to work on public corruption cases, but it did kick about $500,000 to the Texas Rangers to cover the costs for travel and other things tied to investigating public corruption allegations. And on top of all this, there is now a new category of defendant in court, a "state officer," and that state officer — who can be anyone who works for the state as an employee, an appointee or, let's say, an elected official — will no longer be put on trial in the county where the alleged crime took place. This is different from all other Texas law since the venue is almost always supposed to be the county where the offense occurred. But now state officers will get to be tried in their home counties. Indeed, the Texas Rangers will do the investigating and if they think it's worthwhile, they'll hand cases over to the right prosecutor in the county of residence to move on to the next step of prosecution. Because obviously a local prosecutor won't have any ties or personal considerations to keep him or her from pursuing a case against, well, let's say, a governor.
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