Seven laws passed in the Texas Legislature's second special session are set to take effect Thursday, including the sweeping GOP voting and elections bill that has been challenged in six federal lawsuits.
Other new laws include abortion restrictions, limits on how race can be taught in Texas classrooms and limits on how large social media companies control content — although the social media law also has been challenged in court, with a hearing set for Monday morning on a request from tech associations to block it from taking effect.
On the voting bill, five of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of two dozen civil rights organizations and advocacy groups as well as six voters. The sixth came from the U.S. Department of Justice.
All of the lawsuits challenge specific sections of Senate Bill 1 as unconstitutional, illegal or discriminatory — including its ban on 24-hour and drive-thru voting, ID requirements for mail-in ballots, protections for partisan poll watchers, and limits on what polling place help can be given to those with a disability or limited understanding of the language.
None of the lawsuits seeks to stop SB 1 from taking immediate effect; instead, they focus on overturning the challenged provisions before the general election in November 2022. With the trial set for July, that means the March 1 Republican and Democratic primaries will be conducted under SB 1.
Texas social media crackdown
House Bill 20 would let social media users sue if they or their opinions are blocked from view or removed on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. It also gives the state attorney general the power to sue social media companies on behalf of affected users.
The law was inspired by complaints that conservatives are being censored on large social media platforms, particularly after Twitter and Facebook removed President Donald Trump for inciting violence before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"It is now law that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media," Gov. Greg Abbott said in September as he signed HB 20 into law.
Social media: Tech groups sue in attempt to void new Texas law
HB 20 allows legal challenges by anybody who lives in Texas, does business in the state or "shares or receives content on a social media platform in this state."
Two tech associations sued in Austin federal court, arguing that the law violates the companies' First Amendment right to have editorial discretion over what appears on their websites and will impose onerous legal costs on companies forced to defend countless lawsuits from users.
Race in the classroom
SB 3 was the second attempt by GOP lawmakers to crack down on the teaching of critical race theory, which explores how racism shaped history, policies, the legal system and more.
Though critical race theory is not specifically taught in public schools, Republicans argued that it produced instruction designed to label white students as racist and promote racial divisiveness. Democrats disagreed, saying SB 3 was an attempt to whitewash history by downplaying racism and the contributions people of color made in history.
SB 3 followed a law passed in the Legislature's regular session that Abbott said didn't go far enough — HB 3979, which limited how teachers can discuss race and current events in social studies courses and barred them from awarding course credit for social or political advocacy work.
SB 3 applies to all courses from kindergarten through high school and requires instructors to teach racial topics "free from political bias." Students also cannot be taught that people are consciously or unconsciously racist by virtue of their race or responsible for actions committed by other members of their race.
Some teachers have expressed confusion about the law's limits, and a school administrator in Southlake made headlines last month for saying the law required teachers to offer opposing perspectives on the Holocaust and other sensitive topics if their instruction relied on one source of information.
Abortion, dating violence and more
These other laws will take effect Thursday, 90 days after the second special session ended:
SB 4 limits the availability of abortion-inducing drugs, prohibiting their use for patients who are more than seven weeks pregnant instead of the previous 10-week limit. The law also makes it a state jail felony for physicians to prescribe abortion-inducing medication without first conducting an in-person examination. It also prohibits the delivery of such drugs through the mail or a delivery service.
SB 6 bans judges from allowing no-cash bail for those accused of violent crimes and those arrested for a felony while they were free on bail. Several sections of the bill go into effect in January, including limits on charitable organizations that pay for bail and the creation of a new system for reporting a defendant's criminal history and any failure to appear in court after posting bail.
SB 9 requires classroom instruction on how to prevent child abuse, family violence, dating violence and sex trafficking at least once during middle school and once in high school. Abbott added the issue to the second special session after he had vetoed a similar measure in the regular session, saying lawmakers failed to give parents the option of having their children skip the class. With SB 9 requiring students to receive parental permission before attending the class, Abbott signed the bill into law Sept. 17.
One superfluous law
One law taking effect Thursday won't be needed.
SB 13 would have delayed the Texas primaries if lawmakers needed more time to finalize redistricting maps to account for population changes identified in the 2020 census. Those district maps — for the Texas House and Senate, U.S. House and State Board of Education — were approved in the third special session and signed into law, keeping March 1 as the date for the GOP and Democratic primaries.
Several other bills passed during the second special session took immediate effect, most notably legislation giving an extra month's payment to those in the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: New Texas laws: Voting, abortion drugs, and teaching about race