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Texas Rings in New Year with Controversial Laws Affecting Higher Education, Taxation, and Justice

As Texas college students prepare to return to their campuses after the winter break, a looming change awaits them—the lights in their campuses’ diversity offices will remain dimmed. A new law, effective January 1, 2024, prohibits diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at the state’s higher education institutions, sparking debates over its potential impact on campus inclusivity.

Senate Bill 17 mandates the discontinuation of DEI work, including training for faculty and staff, and the exclusion of diversity statements in hiring processes. Universities are required to confirm compliance with these regulations to the Legislature between sessions. Although the law officially takes effect in the new year, many public universities in Texas have already begun scaling down their DEI practices in response to legal uncertainties and guidance issued by the governor’s chief of staff.

In addition to dissolving DEI offices, universities are grappling with the closure of university-led student support programs, raising concerns about potential violations of the law. While some institutions explore workarounds, such as the establishment of alternative centers promoting inclusivity, others face the challenge of navigating a complex landscape created by the new legislation.

The impact extends beyond DEI initiatives, affecting the hiring process for new faculty members. Although the law exempts class instruction, materials required for federal grant applications, and student organizations, university officials report increased difficulties in recruiting diverse faculty.

Beyond the realm of higher education, the new year in Texas brings forth 29 additional laws targeting various aspects of the economy, tax codes, and the criminal justice system. Notable changes include:

  • Streamlining Tax Exemptions: Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 4077 ease requirements on property reappraisals for spouses inheriting property, and House Bill 2354 prevents the transfer of ownership for tax purposes when land is left to a spouse.
  • Diverting Minors Charged with Class C Misdemeanors: House Bill 3186 introduces alternative measures, such as diversion plans, for minors charged with class C misdemeanors, offering support programs in lieu of fines.
  • Expanding Exemptions for Charitable Organizations: House Bill 1058 and House Bill 4645 provide tax credits and exemptions for charitable organizations investing in low-income housing, and House Bill 456 exempts such organizations from taxes on certain mineral interests.
  • New Standard for Homeowner Association Fees: House Bill 614 mandates homeowner association boards to adopt standardized enforcement policies for fines, requiring transparent communication about potential violations.
  • Restricting E-cigarette Advertising to Minors: House Bill 4758 criminalizes the use of images of food, celebrities, or cartoon characters on e-cigarette packaging, aiming to combat vaping among minors.
  • Improving Understanding of Patient Insurance Plans: House Bill 4500 obligates insurance providers to create secure portals for healthcare providers, streamlining the process of determining patients’ insurance coverage.

As the Lone Star State ushers in 2024, these laws spark discussions and debates over their implications for higher education, taxation, and justice within Texas communities.