Once again, Texas has proven its commitment to the protection of life and dignity at all ages. The 88th Legislature made tremendous advancements in terms of protecting school children, be it from predatory online businesses, sexually explicit materials, and those seeking to do them physical harm. Additionally, the Legislature ensured all children under the age of 18 will be protected from unscientific and untested gender transition procedures. These are but a few of the many achievements that codify child safety and parental empowerment in Texas.
House Bill 3 (Burrows, et al. | SP: Nichols) improves public school safety in Texas. The bill requires the presence of armed security at public schools, mental health training for district personnel, providing law enforcement entities with emergency response maps and walkthroughs, and the monitoring of school district safety and security requirements. The bill also provides guidelines for emergency operations plans, safety and security requirements, and the development of a notification procedures for violent activity. Lastly, the bill provides school districts with funding and support as it pertains to school safety and the establishment of regional school safety review teams.
House Bill 18 (Slawson, et al. | SP: Hughes, et al.) requires digital service providers (DSPs) such as Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Snapchat, and others, to obtain parental consent before allowing minors to use their services. Under HB 18, these services must provide parents or guardians tools to limit or wholly prevent the amount and type of data collected if they allow their child to access said services. Additionally, the bill establishes a statutory responsibility on the part of DSPs to prevent harm to minors by preventing exposure to content that promotes, facilitates, or otherwise glorifies suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, bullying, grooming, and more.
House Bill 900 (Patterson, et al. | SP: Paxton, et al.) prohibits sexually explicit and harmful materials from being accessible in school libraries. The bill also differentiates between sexually explicit materials and sexually relevant materials, permitting students access to sexually relevant materials with parental consent. The bill also creates an extensive reviewal system and requires schoolbook vendors to rate their books as either sexually explicit or relevant.
Senate Bill 12 (Hughes, et al. | SP: Shaheen, et al.) restricts sexually oriented performances on the premises of a commercial enterprise, on public property, or in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age. The bill creates a civil penalty and criminal offence for violation of these restrictions.
Senate Bill 14 (Campbell, et al. | SP: Oliverson, et al.) prohibits medical professionals from providing surgical interventions, cross-sex hormones, or puberty-inhibiting drugs to children under the age of 18 for the purpose of altering a child’s biological characteristics from their sex to a perceived gender identity. The bill also prohibits public funds from being used to support any provider or entity that performs the aforementioned interventions and requires the Texas Medical Board to revoke the medical license of a practitioner that provides these interventions.
House Bill 63 (Swanson, et al. | SP: Sparks) prohibits the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from accepting anonymous reports of child abuse and neglect to Child Protective Services (CPS). The bill does, however, permit anonymous reporting of abuse or neglect to local or state law enforcement agencies in the event of an emergency. This ensures that a concerned neighbor, friend, or relative who has legitimate and good-faith concerns about a child’s welfare but does not feel comfortable providing their information is not deterred from requesting intervention in truly emergent scenarios.
House Bill 1181 (Shaheen, et al. | SP: Paxton) provides a mechanism to hold the owner of certain commercial entities liable for damages if an individual younger than 18 years of age accesses pornographic material on its website, including a social media platform, more than one-third of which is sexual material harmful to minors. The bill requires such entities to have a mechanism that prevents a user from accessing such material unless the user verifies that the user is 18 years of age or older. In addition, a person who posts pornographic material on an Internet website may be held liable for damages if an individual younger than 18 years of age accesses the material on the website.
Senate Bill 24 (Kolkhorst, et al. | SP: Frank, et al.) termed the “Thriving Texas Families Act” consolidates family support programs to the Family Support Services division within HHSC. The bill also creates a network to fund services for families in order to promote healthy pregnancy, childbirth, family formation, and help families achieve economic self-sufficiency.
Senate Bill 593 (Sparks | SP: Frank, et al.) requires HHSC to hire an independent party to conduct an audit of the agency’s rules, minimum standards, and contract requirements that apply to child-placing agencies, residential child-care facilities, relative caregivers, and adoptive homes. The bill also requires HHSC and DFPS to present a plan to state leaders on how to implement the recommendations made by the independent auditors.
Senate Bill 614 (Perry | SP: Frank) requires that a parent whose children are in parental child safety placements must be notified of their right to consult with an attorney. The bill also limits the amount of time that a child in these placements can be removed from their home and requires the reporting of certain data related to the placement.
Senate Bill 838 (Creighton, et al. | SP: Thierry, et al.) requires school districts and open enrollment charter schools to provide each classroom in the district or school with a silent panic alert device that allows for immediate contact with district or school emergency services or emergency services agencies, law enforcement agencies, health departments, and fire departments.
Senate Bill 1447 (Miles | SP: Campos) hopes to reduce mistakes during state child welfare investigations by requiring the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop and implement a mandatory training program for Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators and their supervisors.