Thanks to misplaced priorities, some ridiculous laws were passed during the 88th regular session. Three of the most nonsensical include House Bill 900 (book bans), Senate Bill 29 (local health control takeovers), and Senate Bill 505 (pollute less, pay more vehicle registration).
Here’s more information about these laws and their impact on our state:
1. Book bans (HB 900)
On a near party-line vote, vague and confusing legislation passed mandating a “library standard,” requiring private book vendors to set ratings for “sexually relevant” and “sexually explicit” books. According to PEN America, a freedom of expression nonprofit, the books most challenged feature LGBTQIA+ identities and feature characters of color, who discuss racism and race.
Now, book sellers in Austin and Houston are a part of a coalition suing in federal court, stating the law violates free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Named in the suit are the leaders of the Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, because the agencies are responsible for the law’s implementation.
The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board decries the absurdity of the censorship crusade, just days before the law takes effect, "Obviously, not every book is appropriate for children, depending on their age, but it’s equally obvious that the book-banners — in the Texas Legislature and elsewhere — are not book readers. Otherwise, they would have learned from history."
2. Local health control takeover (SB 29)
At a time when COVID is back in the headlines for being on the rise in multiple Texas counties, the state will hinder local governments from mandating masks or business shutdowns during high community risk levels, to prevent the virus from spreading.
In Dallas County, cases are increasing as a new variant spreads, and in Bexar County, weekly case numbers tripled. At this writing, a school district east of San Antonio is shut down and extracurriculars suspended due to so many teachers out sick with COVID, including the Runge ISD superintendent himself.
While we can sympathize with pandemic frustration, public health directors’ guidance for navigating emergencies shouldn’t be overruled by politicians who live nowhere near a COVID outbreak or future health emergency. With this short-sighted legislation, Republicans are making public health experts and officials the enemy, instead of a virus.
3. Pollute less, pay more auto registration (SB 505)
Consumers choosing cleaner, greener vehicles will now be hit with a $200 EV tax for the registration or registration renewal of an electric vehicle. It's $400 for owners registering a new vehicle, since they'll pay two year’s worth.
The nonpartisan, independent nonprofit Consumer Reports called the registration “punitive” and opposed the bill, pointing out that the recouped gas tax should only be $71.
In response, our friends at Environment Texas denounced the fee, likening it to “pouring sugar in the tank of the electric vehicle revolution… making it harder for Texans to afford these clean vehicles which are so critical to reducing air pollution in Texas.”
It’s hard to believe and worth noting that all Democrats joined Republicans in voting for this. Driving EVs will help reduce carbon pollution that is a major cause of our climate crisis. Aren't Texas summers hot enough?
Dishonorable mention: Social media lawsuit venue preference (SB 1602)
Conservatives kicked off social media platforms for violating a private company’s terms of service may now take what they call “censorship” lawsuits to Texas courts.
The bill follows the controversial 2021 law, now in litigation, that gives Texans the right to sue social media companies including Facebook and Twitter, should users feel they are being unfairly censored.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association sued Texas saying the legislation puts “foreign propaganda and extremism on equal footing with decent internet users, as “God Bless America” and “Death to America” are both viewpoints that the State of Texas would compel a private business to treat the same.
If you like (or don’t like) how your lawmaker voted on these or any other new laws, make sure they hear from you, because they hear from paid lobbyists throughout the year.
If any Democrats want to explain their votes, we are curious and interested in why you voted the way you did. Email email@example.com.
In case you missed it in May, here’s our 5 Best & Worst Moments of the 2023 Texas Legislative Session.
Your donation supports our media and helps us keep it free of ads and paywalls.