Property tax revision, judicial branch expansion among new Texas laws that took effect Jan. 1

An aerial view of the Capitol in Austin on Jan. 6, 2022. (Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune, Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune)

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Several laws passed in the 2021 Texas legislative sessions laws took effect Jan. 1, including a revision to how property taxes are collected, an expansion of the judicial branch and an amendment to pollution standards.

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Senate Bill 12, written by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, limits the amount of property taxes a school district can levy on the homestead of an elderly or disabled person, according to a bill analysis by the Senate Research Center.

To ensure that districts are not burdened by a decrease in revenue, the law makes districts eligible for additional state aid. The law addresses a perceived shortcoming of the school funding overhaul lawmakers passed in 2019. That law provided additional state money to school districts so they, in turn, could lower local property tax rates. But elderly and disabled homeowners were not entitled to this reduction.

House Bill 3774, authored by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, includes several reforms to the judicial branch. It creates 10 district courts, five statutory county courts, one statutory probate court and one criminal magistrate court. It revises the jurisdiction of certain statutory county courts, gives magistrates in certain counties jurisdiction in criminal cases, revises the duties of certain district and county attorneys and provides public access to the state court document database — if the state Supreme Court agrees.

Additionally, the law creates a code of professional responsibility to regulate entities overseen by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, revises the commission’s investigatory power and permits the commission to use state funds to train forensic analysts.

Among other housekeeping provisions, the law requires that the protective order registry include protective orders for victims of sexual assault or abuse, stalking or trafficking and mandates the removal of certain vacated orders from the registry. It extends the deadline for prosecutors to answer an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed after final conviction in a felony case without the death penalty.

Some provisions of the bill took effect on Sept. 1, 2021, while the remaining became law on Jan. 1.

Senate Bill 1210, written by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, and Bettencourt, requires that building codes allow the use of refrigerants, a component of air conditioning units, other than hydrofluorocarbons, so long as they comply with the federal Clean Air Act. This law is in line with a movement in the United States and around the world to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, chemical compounds of hydrogen, carbon and fluorine that erode the ozone layer and contribute to global warming.

A Senate Research Center analysis of the law noted that a leading industry group, the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, supported the legislation. Major Texas manufacturers including Goodman and Chemours also supported it, the analysis found. The analysis said the transition away from hydrofluorocarbons includes ramping up the manufacturing of air conditioners that use other types of coolants, many of which can be manufactured in Texas.

“Overall, the transition is expected to create 33,000 new manufacturing jobs and sustain more than 138,000 existing manufacturing jobs nationwide,” the analysis noted. “A large proportion of these jobs will be in Texas, already a major manufacturing hub for these products.”

The new 88th legislative session begins Jan. 10.

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