During Texas’ 88th Legislative Session, lawmakers filed more than 8000 bills – only a fraction of which passed through the complex legislative process to become a new law. Not surprisingly, a good portion of the surviving bills pertains to criminal justice, creating new offenses or amending current statutes. Some of Texas’ new criminal laws make obvious sense, while others will probably leave you scratching your head. In any case, here’s the 2023 legislative update on 50 of the most interesting or impactful new Texas criminal laws.
1. Fentanyl Murder
HB 6: Effective Sept.1, 2023
In an effort to combat the fentanyl crisis, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 6, which creates the criminal offense of murder for supplying fentanyl that results in a death; enhances the criminal penalties for the manufacturing or delivery of fentanyl; and requires deaths caused by fentanyl to be designated as fentanyl toxicity or fentanyl poisoning on a death certificate. Current law does not require such classification, as most fentanyl-related deaths as classified as an overdose. Among other things, this legislation makes:
- Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl that results in an overdose death a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison;
- Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, 200 to 400 grams, punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine;
- Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, over 400 grams, punishable by 15 years to life in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine;
- Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, under 1 gram, a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison;
- Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, 4 to 200 grams, punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $20,000 fine.
2. Giving Alcohol to a Minor Leading to Injury or Death
HB 420: Effective Sept. 1, 2023
It is already against the law – a Class A misdemeanor – to provide alcohol to a minor in Texas. But now, if you provide alcohol to a minor and the youth consumes the alcohol and causes another person to suffer serious bodily injury or death, you face a state jail felony, punishable by six months to 2 years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
3. The Athena Alert
HB 3556, Effective Immediately
The “Athena Alert” was named in honor of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who was kidnapped and killed by a FedEx delivery driver in December. The Athena Alert is similar to an AMBER alert, except it allows law enforcement to quickly activate an alert in a localized area – within a 100-mile radius and to adjacent counties – where a child goes missing without verification of an abduction. It essentially closes the gap between the time a child vanishes and a statewide AMBER Alert may be issued.
4. Statute of Limitations Extended for Family Violence
HB 467: Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation extends the statute of limitations for certain family violence offenses. In the past, prosecutors had two years to bring a misdemeanor family violence charge against an individual and three to bring a felony family violence charge. Now, prosecutors have three years to file misdemeanor family violence cases and five years to file felony family violence cases.
5. No Pets After Animal Cruelty Conviction
HB 598: Effective Sept. 1, 2023
House Bill 598 is aimed at preventing people convicted of animal cruelty from acquiring more animals for at least five years. This law makes it illegal to have a pet or live in a house with a pet for five years after a conviction of animal cruelty – specifically dogfighting, cockfighting, attacking an assistance animal, or cruelty to non-livestock animal. The first violation of this new law is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. A subsequent violation is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
6. Boating While Intoxicated with a Child
HB 1163, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
It’s somewhat surprising that this law isn’t already on the books, especially since it’s already a crime to drive a vehicle while intoxicated with a child. House Bill 1163 extends that behavior to boats and watercrafts. In Texas, it is now a state jail felony to boat while intoxicated with a passenger under the age of 15. Boating while intoxicated is often referred to as a BWI. A state jail felony is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
7. Illegal Voting is Now a Felony
HB 1243, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Texans take illegal voting seriously. Lawmakers made what was a Class A misdemeanor for casting a fraudulent ballot to a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Illegal voting includes things like voting when you are not eligible to vote, voting more than once in an election, and voting as another person.
8. No Tampering with Temporary Tags
HB 914, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Fraudulent vehicle tags are a problem in Texas, where they are often used in the furtherance of crimes, such as vehicle thefts, robberies, drug crimes, and even murders. This new law makes temporary license plates a “government document” and tampering with a government document is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine.
9. Doxing is Now Illegal
HB 611, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Doxing, also spelled “doxxing,” is a form of cyberbullying that has surged in popularity across the state and country. It refers to the act of spreading or posting private information about an individual without their permission to the public, mostly through the Internet, to harm, harass or get revenge. House Bill 611 criminalizes this type behavior by creating the criminal offense of “unlawful disclosure of residence address or telephone number.” It’s a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a maximum $2000 fine, to post an individual’s address or number on a publicly accessible website with the intent to cause harm or a threat of harm to the individual or a member of the individual’s family or household. The punishment can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor if the offense results in bodily injury of that individual or their family member.
10. Unauthorized Possession of a Catalytic Converter
SB 224, Effective Immediately
Over the past several years, catalytic converter thefts in Texas have been on the rise. To combat the problem, lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 making it a felony to steal, buy or sell stolen catalytic converters in Texas. Now lawmakers have taken it a step further by enhancing the penalties and also making it a crime to possess a catalytic converter that has been unlawfully removed from a vehicle. Unauthorized possession of a catalytic converter is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. However, it can be enhanced to a third degree if the defendant has previously been convicted of the offense, was engaging in organized crime or possessed a firearm. The legislation is known as the Deputy Darren Almendarez Act, named after the late Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Almendarez who lost his life while trying to prevent a group of thieves from stealing his catalytic converter.
11. Refusal to ID While Driving
SB 1551, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Most people believe that you have to identify yourself to a police officer when they pull you over. This actually wasn’t the case – until now. Senate Bill 1551 requires drivers who are pulled over by police for an alleged law violation to give their driver’s license as well as their name, address, and birthdate when asked by police. If they refuse, they face a charge of failure to identify while driving, which is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. However, if the driver gives a false or fictitious name, they face a Class B misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a maximum $2000 fine.
12. New Family Violence Enhancement
HB 1589, Effective Sept.1, 2023
Assault bodily injury against a family member is generally a Class A misdemeanor. However, if the defendant has a previous conviction for violating a bond or protective order in a family violence case the punishment can be enhanced to a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
13. Voyeurism Through Electronic Means
HB 2306, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Current voyeurism laws haven’t kept up with modern technology. House Bill 2306 updates current voyeurism law to make it clear that observing someone with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire without their consent using any electronic means, including drones or hidden cameras, constitute an offense.
14. Deep Fake Pornography
SB 1361, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This bill creates a new offense, making it illegal to knowingly produce or distribute a “deep fake” video that appears to depict a person – without their consent – with their intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct. Producing or distributing deep fake pornography is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
15. Elderly Abandonment and Endangerment
HB 2187, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation amends the Texas statute that protects children from abandonment and endangerment to include elderly and disabled individuals. Beginning on September 1, Section 22.041 of the Texas Penal Code will also include elderly and disabled individuals to the class of people protected by law from abandonment and endangerment.
16. Race to the Impound
HB 2899, Effective Immediately
This legislation expands a current law that allows law enforcement to remove from the road a vehicle that is being used to drag race and take it to the nearest impound lot. In the past, law enforcement could only take the vehicle if there was property damage or someone was injured. Now, law enforcement can impound any vehicle used in a drag race – regardless of whether there was property damage or bodily harm.
17. Possession of Forged Money
HB 1910, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This law clarifies a law already on the books regarding counterfeit money. In the past, if a defendant had counterfeit bills, but had not yet passed them, he or she couldn’t be charged in proportion to the amount of counterfeit money seized. Now, they can be charged on the amount of forged money in their possession on the presumption that they intended to pass all of the forged money. For example, the offense for purchasing a pair of shoes with a forged $50 bill would be a class C misdemeanor. Even if the offender were carrying $50,000 in forged bills, they would only be able to be charged for the $50 they used. This legislation changes that so that the defendant would be prosecuted based on the amount of the bills in their possession, not passed.
18. No Drones Above Prisons
HB 3075, Effective Sept. 1, 2022
Security concerns have been raised about the lack of restrictions on drones flying above correctional facilities. House Bill 3075 addresses these concerns by making it a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine, to fly a drone less than 400 feet over a correctional or detention facility; make contact with a correctional facility or detention facility; or come close enough to cause a disturbance. The offense is elevated to a state jail felony if the defendant used the drone to drop contraband.
19. Human Trafficking Near College Campus
HB 3553, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
College students are especially susceptible to exploration and trafficking. This legislation seeks to deter human trafficking and exploration on college campuses by enhancing the penalty from a second-degree felony to a first-degree for the offense of trafficking of a person on the premises of or within 1000 feet of a public, private, or independent institution of higher education. This offense is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
20. Human Trafficking Near Daycares
HB 3554, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation seeks to combat the exploitation and trafficking of children near establishments that interact with children by enhancing the penalty from a second-degree felony to a first-degree for trafficking a person within 1000 feet of certain shelters or facilities, a community center offering youth services, or a child-care facility. This offense is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
21. Retailers Can Send Shoplifters to TIPS Program
HB 2129, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Most large Texas counties have a Theft Intervention Program (TIPs) that allows first-time, low-risk shoplifters to participate in an education course in lieu of prosecution or as a condition of their probation. House Bill 2129 takes it a step further and allows retailers to offer a suspected shoplifter an opportunity to complete a theft education program in lieu of being reported to law enforcement.
22. Attacks on Texas Power Grid
HB 1833, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
In the past few years, there have been an alarming number of targeted attacks across the nation against the critical electric grid infrastructure, including in Texas. In an effort to send a message that Texans will not tolerate attacks on the state’s power grid, lawmakers increased the penalty for criminal mischief involving a critical infrastructure facility or public power supply. Defendants who cause interruption to the public power supply can face a third degree felony if the amount of pecuniary loss is less than $150,000; a second-degree felony if the amount of the pecuniary loss is between $150,000 to $300,000; or a first-degree felony if the pecuniary loss is $300,000 or more.
23. The Crackdown on Chronic Flashers
HB 1730, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Beginning on September 1, 2023, people who have previously been convicted of indecent exposure face harsher penalties for a subsequent conviction. If the defendant has one previous conviction for indecent exposure, he or she will face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine (rather than a Class B misdemeanor for a first-time offense). If the defendant has two or more previous convictions for indecent exposure, he or she will face a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
24. Prohibiting Offenders from Tracking Victims
HB 2715, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
In cases of domestic violence and stalking, it’s not uncommon for an abuser to try and track their victim. House Bill 2715 authorizes a magistrate to prohibit a defendant charged with an offense of family violence from tracking or monitoring an individual as a condition of bond.
25. Unauthorized Harvest of Timber
HB 1772, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Texas’ forest and logging industry is strong and the price of timber is on the rise, which has led to an increase in timber theft. In an effort to deter this crime, Texas lawmakers have passed legislation requiring additional information to be included in a bill of sale for timber purchases and enhanced penalties for fraudulent bills of sale.
The new law makes it a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine, for timber purchasers and sellers who either knowingly failed to provide the documentation required, or knowingly provided false information. If the offense was committed to conceal or attempt to conceal the unauthorized harvesting of timber, or the defrauding of a timber beneficiary, the offense would be:
- a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in a state jail and a maximum fine of $10,000, if the value of the timber was at least $500 but less than $20,000;
- a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was at least $20,000 but less than $100,000;
- a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was at least $100,000 but less than $200,000;
- a first-degree felony, punishable 5 years to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was $200,000 of more.
26. Tampering With an Electronic Monitor
SB 1004, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation makes it a criminal offense for an individual – including a defendant on bond, probationer, or parolee – to knowingly remove or disable an electronic tracking device that is required for their location monitoring. In the past, it was only considered a technical violation to tamper with an electronic monitor, but now it is considered a crime.
Tampering with an electronic monitoring device is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. However, if the person is in a super-intensive supervision program, the offense could be elevated to a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.
27. Child Grooming
SB 1527, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
In an effort to further combat the sexual exploitation of children, Texas lawmakers passed a law making grooming a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Grooming refers to an act of deliberately establishing a connection with a child in an effort to subject them to sexual abuse or human trafficking. The law makes it a state crime for an individual to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce – or attempt to persuade, induce, entice or coerce – a person under the age of 18 to engage in sexual conduct or activity or be a party to the conduct.
28. Crime Lab Portal
SB 991, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Senate Bill 991 establishes a DPS crime lab online portal that processes requests for records and transmits them to the appropriate parties, including prosecutors and defense attorneys as part of the discovery process. In the past, crime lab records were managed independently and records were provided through the traditional paper-driven discovery process, which often led to delays when litigating forensic science.
Having a central computerized portal will increase efficiency and streamline the process of accessing and sharing crime lab records. This centralized approach will reduce delays in forensic science litigation and enable prosecutors and defense attorneys to obtain the necessary information for their cases promptly. The portal will also provide information on disciplinary proceedings applicable to a crime lab or license holder investigated by the Forensic Science Commission. It is mandatory for crime labs to participate in the online portal, unless exempted by DPS, or face disciplinary action by the Forensic Science Commission.
29. Updates to Criminal Background Check Requirements
SB 4123, Effective Immediately
New federal requirements have been introduced for the use of criminal background check information by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These requirements aim to improve the efficiency of the hiring and contracting processes while ensuring the security of private information. However, the State of Texas had not yet aligned its state law with the FBI criteria, causing confusion regarding the duties and responsibilities of entities in relation to this information. One area of uncertainty was in the statutes concerning the destruction of obtained information once it has served its authorized purpose. To address these issues, this bill provides updates and reorganization of the state’s criminal background check requirements. The bill clarifies the access and use of information as well as the obligations of relevant entities regarding this information and the established criteria.
30. Ban on Trans Collegiate Athletes
SB 15, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Senate Bill 115 attempts to combat the issue of unfairness in collegiate athletics by prohibiting biological males from competing against biological females on the opposing teams. This legislation requires collegiate athletes to participate only on the team in which their biological sex listed on their birth certificate aligns. It applies specifically to public institutions of higher education. In situations where a corresponding female team isn’t available, female athletes are permitted to compete on male teams.
31. Mass Shooting Definition and Enhanced Punishment
HB 165, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation enhances the criminal penalty for aggravated assault for an actor in the context of a mass shooting. The bill defines a “mass shooting” as an incident where a firearm is used with the intention to inflict serious bodily injury or death, and results in 4 or more injured people. House Bill 165 elevates the penalty for aggravated assault from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. This legislation also requires sentences for crimes committed as part of the same event and punished as a first-degree felony to be served consecutively.
32. Modernized Notice to Crime Victims
SB 2101, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
The Texas Constitution provides victims of crime with the right, upon their request, to receive notice about court proceedings and the conviction, sentence, and release of the accused. This legislation modernizes these communications by providing an electronic delivery option when requested by victims, their guardians, or close relatives of the deceased victim. In the past, police departments and related agencies communicated this information to victims through traditional mail.
33. Increased Move Over or Slow Down Penalties
HB 898, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
This legislation requires drivers to either change lanes or reduce their speed to 20 mph below the posted speed limit when they approach emergency vehicles, law enforcement, tow trucks, utility service vehicles, TxDOT vehicles, or other construction vehicles with activated lights or signals on the roadside. Failure to comply will now result in tickets with increased penalties and fines. The legislation also authorizes the court to adjust the fines and court costs based on the circumstances surrounding each violation.
34. Expunctions for First-Time Minor Offenders
SB 1725, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Section 106.12 of the Alcohol and Beverage Code is currently interpreted by prosecutors to mean that a single offense involved in an alcohol citation can be expunged. However, individuals are commonly subject to multiple charges in one incident.
For example, if a college student were to receive public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol, and open container violations all in one contact with law enforcement, the current interpretation would be to only allow the expunction of one of the three violations. This legislation will now allow first-time minor offenders with multiple violations stemming from one incident to expunge the entire incident from their record.
35. No Statute of Limitations for Burglary with Intent to Commit Sexual Assault
HB 2019, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
The current five-year statute of limitations for burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault poses a problem. Many rape kits collected at crime scenes remain untested for over five years. House Bill 2019 rectifies this issue by eliminating the five-year statute of limitations in first-degree burglary offenses when DNA has been collected. This ensures that offenders can still be charged, even if the rape kit was delayed or produced results that don’t match a readily identifiable person.
36. AI Child Pornography
HB 2700, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Concerns have been raised that current laws may not address new crimes involving the use of artificial intelligence to create sexually explicit visual material of a minor. House Bill 2700 addresses this issue by specifying that prohibited visual material includes a depiction of a child or a minor:
- who was recognizable as an actual person by the person’s face, likeness, or other distinguishing characteristic, such as a unique birthmark or other recognizable feathers; and
- whole images as a child younger than 18 years old was used in creating, adapting, or modifying the visual material, including computer-generated visual material that was created, adapted, or modified using an artificial intelligence application or other computer software.
37. Victims Rights: Family Access to Evidence
SB 435, Effective Immediately
After the Santa Fe school shooting, many victims’ loved ones wanted to view the evidence. However, due to current laws, there was a concern that permitting family members to view evidence would require that it also be disclosed to the public, including the media. This legislation rectifies this by authorizing a prosecutor to allow a family member to view certain evidence, including medical examiner reports and video evidence, without subjecting it to public disclosure.
38. Prioritizing Murder and Capital Murder
SB 402, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Murder and capital murder trials now must get priority on backlogged trial dockets. Under Senate Bill 402, trial courts are required to give preference to murder and capital murder cases when scheduling hearings and trials. This legislation was passed in an effort to cut down on the long waiting time for these most serious cases, which increases the chances for evidence to be lost, witnesses to disappear, and prosecutions to be impaired.
39. Obscured License Plates
HB 2195, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Drivers often violate laws requiring their license plates to be visible, which can be a hindrance to law enforcement, tolling authorities, and the general public. This legislation makes it an offense to attach or display a vehicle a license plate that has a coating, covering, protective substance, or other material that alters or obscures the letters, numbers, or color of the license plate. The punishment for obscuring a license plate is a maximum $300 fine unless the driver has a previous conviction in which case it is a maximum $600 fine. Two or more convictions elevates it to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
40. Possession/Promotion of Child Porn Now a 3G Offense
HB 1227, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Texas lawmakers have added possesssion/promotion of child pornography to the list of 3G offenses. A 3G offense is a special category of felony offenses in Texas that requires a defendant to serve at least half of their prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Additionally, a judge may not give a defendant straight probation for a 3G offense without a jury’s recommendation after a trial.
41. Leaking Judicial Opinions
SB 372, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Court employees who leak confidential opinoins or documents can now find themsevles behind bars. Leaking judicial opinions is now a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. Under Senate Bill 372, a person commits an offense if a person, other than a justice or judge, who is involved in crafting an opinion or decision for an adjudicatory proceeding does not maintain confidentiality of all non-public judicial work.
42. Sale or Purchase of Shark Fins or Shark Fin Products
Senate Bill 1839, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Many people have never heard the term “shark finning,” which is the process where fishermen catch and slice off the top fin, sides, and tail of the shark while the animal is still alive. Afterward, fishermen dispose of the shark back in the water, where the shark dies. Shark finning is appealing to fishermen because shark fin soup is a traditional and often expensive delicacy served in restaurants across the world. Senate Bill 1839 criminalizes shark finning in Texas by making it an offense if a person:
- fails to immediately destroy and discard a shark fin;
- buys or offers to buy, sells or offers to sell, possesses for the purpose of sale, transports or ships for the purpose of sale, or advertises for sale, a shark fin regardless of where the shark was taken or caught; or
- violates a proclamation or rule adopted under Section 66.2161 of the Texas Wildlife Code.
Shark finning is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine. However, it’s a Class A misdemeanor if the defendant has previously been convicted of shark finning in the previous five years.
43. Assault on Hospital Staff
SB 840, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
Texas legislators approved a bill that strengthens the legal consequences for individuals who assault healthcare professionals in hospitals. Senate Bill 840, introduced by State Senator Royce West from Dallas, elevates the offense from a misdemeanor to a state felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. I