More than 600 new laws take effect today across the state. No, the legislature hasn’t switched to year-round sessions. These are the little legal easter eggs we tend to find on the first day of September here; new rules which lawmakers debated back in the spring and which may have gotten a lot of attention then, but they actually begin to kick in and affect us all today.
There are too many of these changes to put together a complete list here, but the Standard thought it might be useful to ask one of the people who’s been covering this stuff intensely to help us with a top five countdown. Mike Ward is an Austin Bureau reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.
“When the legislature takes action, they vote. And then several months later, a lot of these laws take effect, and they affect all Texans,” Ward says. “It’s like having a quiz here about what new rules you gotta play under.”
5. The Budget
Ward says some people may think it’s the top law change, but he has a few others that take precedent. “The budget is what affects everybody’s life,” Ward says. “There’s more money in the budget this time for a whole lot of programs. But the budget is probably going to have the most effect on everybody: everything from raising fees to how much you can get for healthcare.”
4. Now you can get cash value for your leftover gift cards.
If you have $2.50 or less leftover on that coffee shop or bookstore giftcard, don’t throw it away, Ward says. The law now mandates that you can exchange that leftover credit for cash.
3. Criminal laws and fines.
Ward says there are a plethora of changes to criminal laws and fines that take effect Tuesday. Some fees are increased, some are decreased. “Everything from increasing penalties on some felonies, traffic offenses… There’s a whole array of them,” Ward says. “But that’s gonna hurt people and their pocket book when they get stopped by the police.”
There’s a few changes that will keep kids and families from needless courtroom appearances as well, Ward says. “The criminal aspects of truancy and a lot of the things like that are gonna go away. That’s gonna become a civil offense,” he says. “Kids won’t have to go to court for things they do at school.”
2. Nixing the $200 state charge on professionals.
For the past 10 to 15 years attorneys, doctors, engineers and other professionals have had to pay the state a $200 fee for providing their services to the public. Not so anymore. “I talked to a lawyer the other day,” Ward says. The lawyer said he didn’t know that the fee was getting axed, but he was delighted. “I guess I’ll go out and have a steak dinner and a glass of wine with my wife,” Ward says the lawyer told him. “We’ll thank the state for that.”
1. Property tax rollback.
Property taxes in major Texas cities have been soaring as more and more people move in. But Ward says we’re all going to get a little bit of a break from the rising amount we’ve been giving back to the state every year. “People will see some effect on their tax bills that are gonna be coming up next year,” he says. “It’s probably gonna be less than they thought they wanted, but it will be some.”