Multiple new laws addressing public safety, crime and border security went into effect Sept. 1. The legislature passed bills related to these issues during the regular legislative session and Gov. Greg Abbott signed them into law.
Abbott signed four bills into law in June related to fentanyl. One of the most significant is House Bill 6, filed by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, which amends existing law to classify fentanyl poisoning as murder. Another new law requires death certificates to state cause of death related to fentanyl poisonings. Another expands the distribution of NARCAN to Texas colleges and universities, and another expands educational initiatives to young people about the dangers of fentanyl.
Eight new public safety bills went into effect Sept. 1. The bills, which received bipartisan support, were designed to enhance penalties for some crimes, provide additional support to law enforcement personnel and local communities, and hold “rogue” district attorneys accountable.
They include the Todd-Hoglan Act, which closes loopholes in state law and enhances penalties for those who commit aggravated assault that result in devastating brain or spinal injuries; increasing penalties for catalytic converter theft; holding accountable district attorneys who refuse to prosecute certain crimes; increasing penalties for illegal street racing; imposing harsher penalties for parolees who remove their ankle monitors; increasing penalties for crimes committed against health-care workers.
Senate Bill 402, filed by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, also went into effect. It amends current law to require trial courts to prioritize hearings and trials for murder and capital murder offenses.
Whitmire filed the bill to address a criminal case backlog in Harris County, where the average wait time from when a case is filed and tried is 44 months, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Over 1,800 of these cases are awaiting trial in Harris County, according to the DA’s office. The number of people charged with committing a crime while out on two to four bonds has climbed in Harris County. From 2016 to 2020, the number of alleged criminals released on multiple bonds quadrupled from 1,812 to 7,312, Houston Public Media reported, and the numbers continue to climb.
Several laws related to the border also became effective Sept. 1.
One of the most notable is SB 1900, which designates Mexican cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and allows law enforcement and prosecutors to pursue higher penalties for crimes, including those related to delivering controlled substances or drugs or operating a stash house. It also allows FTOs to be added to law enforcement agency intelligence databases and local entities to seek public nuisance claims against FTOs operating in their communities.
Another is the Bishop Evans Act, filed by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, which improves worker’s compensation and death benefits for Texas military forces on state active duty, including serving through Operation Lone Star. It gives them the same benefits they’d receive if they were killed in the line of duty overseas. It’s named after Bishop Evans, a Texas Army National Guard Specialist from Arlington who, after serving in Iraq and Kuwait, signed up to serve in Texas and drowned last April saving the lives of drug smugglers who’d entered Texas illegally from Mexico.
Another significant new law authorizes the governor to develop and execute an interstate compact for border security among interested states. These compacts don’t require congressional approval.
Others include authorizing the Texas Department of Public Safety to train local law enforcement officials “on cartel related activity as well as the best tactics to train on border crimes;” authorizing the Texas Military Department to use drones to secure the border; authorizing U.S. Border Patrol agents to arrest people for committing Texas crimes; and authorizing the creation of a grant program to compensate certain property owners for damages caused by criminal activities on agricultural land.