Though the legislative session ended months ago, the impact of decisions made last spring continues to unfold with the new bills that went into effect on January 1st. Among a smattering of bills governing everything from epinephrin injectors to taxes on residential properties are two highly controversial bills from the 84th session that stand to have a broad impact on Texans in the new year.
One of these bills, which has gotten plenty of press, is House Bill 910.
Along with Senate Bill 11, the law requiring public universities to set standards allowing for concealed handgun license owners to carry their weapons on campus, House Bill 910 represents a major victory for the Open Carry movement in Texas.
Arguably the least extreme of Open Carry’s legislative goals, this law allows those who have a concealed handgun license to carry their weapon openly in a holster. While seeing the guns that have been, until now, concealed may make some uncomfortable, proponents of the law argue that little has changed. The guns were already there – you just couldn’t see them. While they assert that this is no reason to panic, there are plenty of reasons Texans may feel less comfortable in public standing next to a visible weapon – the forty children who died from gun violence in Texas in 2015 among them.
The opposition to these victories for Open Carry isn’t just about this one law. The movement, which has a history of staging antagonistic actions around the state, isn’t going away any time soon. This bill isn’t the crowning achievement of the Open Carry movement in Texas, it’s the opening salvo.
Another bill went into effect at the start of this new year to less fanfare: House Bill 3994. The bill, which barely passed before a procedural deadline in the House, is yet another restriction on abortion access. This time, the legislature took aim at existing judicial bypass procedures for teenagers in Texas seeking abortion services who can’t get parental consent.
The judicial bypass process is absolutely critical for Texas teens’ access to abortion services – especially for those who are the most vulnerable. HB 3994 increases the burden on Texas teens to prove that the bypass is necessary, changes a long-standing provision that allowed judges to grant bypasses without risking their careers, and creates reporting requirements that many fear will put both the teenagers and the judges at risk from an anti-choice backlash.
Previously, should a judge wish to provide a bypass without issuing a ruling, their failure to rule by a certain time would result in a bypass for the teenager. Under the new law, a lack of a ruling would default to a denial of judicial bypass. For judges facing re-election in more conservative areas of the state, this provision was incredibly important in insuring access to abortion for at-risk teens while also protecting against anti-choice retribution come election season.
Minors are now required to appear in person for the proceeding, when in the past they could appear by video, teleconference, or other electronic means. The bill also increases the burden of proof, placing further time-consuming obstacles in the path of an incredibly time-sensitive procedure.
Finally – the bill requires that all persons seeking an abortion in Texas provide government-issued ID before they can receive services.
Under the guise of ensuring that no minor can access abortion without parental consent, the bill requires physicians to assume that a person seeking an abortion is a minor unless they can provide “governmental identification,” a term that is not clarified at any point in the bill. Now that the Department of State Health Services is refusing to accept the matricula consular as a valid form of identification, it remains to be seen whether this new provision will prevent undocumented immigrants and others lacking access to accepted forms of government-issued identification from accessing legal abortion services in Texas.
Happy New Year from the Texas GOP!