The 87th Texas Legislature's regular session—which Gov. Greg Abbott called "one of the most conservative legislative sessions our state has ever seen"—ended Monday. State lawmakers passed bills allowing the permitless carry of handguns, restricting abortion and limiting the teaching of "critical race theory" in public schools, overriding opposition from Democrats. They also passed bills drafted in response to local policy, including one that financially punishes large cities that cut their police budgets and another that bans homeless encampments.
But lawmakers will have to return to the Capitol later this year for a special session after failing to pass a number of Abbott's priority items, including a voting bill that would tighten state election laws. "We will be back—when, I don't know, but we will be back," House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told members Monday. "There's a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you."
Here are seven pieces of legislation you should know about at the close of the regular legislative session:
1. Homeless camping ban
State lawmakers sent House Bill 1925, which would ban camping in public spaces and require local governments to seek state approval when designating campsites on public land, to Abbott's desk on Wednesday. The governor has said he would sign the bill, which was filed in response to homeless camps in Austin.
Austin voters chose to reinstate a citywide ban on public camping during the May 1 election, after City Council lifted it in 2019. Local elected officials are now in the process of trying to designate sanctioned campsites, which has prompted pushback on the dais and from constituents.
City staff presented a list of 45 possible campsites last month, many of which were on public parkland. If signed into law, HB 1925 would ban cities from using public parks without first gaining approval from the state, compounding the challenges of establishing such sites.
2. Police defunding
After Austin City Council voted unanimously to cut the Austin Police Department budget by around 5% last August, along with a series of other reforms, Abbott began seeking out legislative penalties.
On Friday, just over a year after George Floyd's murder and nearly a year since thousands of Austinites protested police violence, state lawmakers approved House Bill 1900, which applies to cities with a population of more than 250,000 and would restrict their ability to raise property tax revenue, among other financial penalties, if they reduce their police budgets. Abbott has said he will sign the bill into law.
APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon spoke in opposition to HB 1900, which he called a legislative "overstep," during a March committee hearing: "These decisions must be made at the local level by our community when and to the degree needed to help build and maintain trust," he said.
3. Winter storm response
After the February winter storm, which left more than 200,000 Austin Energy customers without power and caused at least 12 deaths in Travis County, there were loud demands for an overhaul of the state power grid. State lawmakers approved sweeping legislation to address some—but not all—of the issues that contributed to the catastrophe.
Senate Bill 2 would change the makeup of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which maintains around 90% of the state grid. If signed into law, it would shrink ERCOT's board of directors from 16 to 11 members and increase the influence of the state's top politicians in the selection of those members.
SB 3 would require some natural gas generators to weatherize. During the winter storm, ERCOT projected the state would lean heavily on natural gas, but wells froze up and icy roads made it impossible to transport it, leading to days-long blackouts and the possibility of a total grid collapse.
4. Permitless carry
House Bill 1927, which would see Texas join 19 other states that don't require a permit to carry holstered handguns, has the governor's support and is celebrated by "constitutional carry" proponents. But some law enforcement agencies and other public officials worry about the risk permitless carry poses to public safety amid already-rising violent crimes rates.
APD Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon joined other police chiefs in speaking out against the bill, which he said would lift training and safety requirements currently in place, during an April 29 press conference. He also pointed to an increase in gun violence locally.
Although not all violent crime involves guns, gun violence is increasing and may involve stolen guns or illegally manufactured "ghost" guns. "I'm just very concerned about the number of illegally possessed firearms and how we can curb that," Chacon said during an April 15 press conference, where he announced a new gun crime prevention program in partnership with the Travis County District Attorney's Office.
5. Abortion restrictions
Abbott signed Senate Bill 8—one of the strictest abortion measures in the country—into law on May 19, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which supporters say can be as early as six weeks, before some people know they're pregnant. It does not include exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
The bill, which takes effect in September, leaves enforcement up to private citizens, whom it allows to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, according to The Texas Tribune. This is intended to make the law harder to challenge legally because the state plays no role in enforcing it.
State lawmakers also approved House Bill 1280, which would ban abortion in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
6. Critical race theory in public schools
Today I killed HB 3979—the bill that attempted to teach our students a whitewashed version of American history—with a Point of Order.— James Talarico (@jamestalarico) May 28, 2021
If kids are old enough to experience racism, then they're old enough to learn about it. #txlege pic.twitter.com/Xg5vmm4Bvh
House Bill 3979, which would limit how current events and the country's history of racism can be taught, is awaiting Abbott's signature after a contentious approval process and significant opposition from Democrats, educators and education advocacy groups.
After State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, raised a procedural violation on Friday, the bill appeared to be dead. But lawmakers removed the amended language that prompted Talarico's concern and ultimately passed a stripped-down version. If signed into law, the bill would ban the teaching of The New York Times' 1619 Project, which argues that the country began when enslaved people first arrived.
Supporters of the bill, which is one of many similar efforts at state legislatures across the country, say it will help prevent personal biases from entering the classroom, according to the Texas Tribune.
7. Voting rights (and a special session)
An hour before the midnight deadline, House Democrats left the floor, blocking a bill that would upend Texas voting laws and prompting Abbott to call a special session.
The bill would add restrictions to early and mail-in voting as well as prohibit drive-thru and other after-hours options. Republican supporters say the bill would improve "election integrity" and prevent voter fraud, despite virtually no evidence that such fraud has occurred. Democratic opponents say the bill is tantamount to voter suppression.
Abbott had declared the bill an emergency priority, along with bail reform. After state lawmakers failed to pass either, he called for a special 30-day session later this year and vowed to defund the state Legislature, threatening salaries, as a penalty. State Rep. Donna Howard, D- Austin, tweeted in response: "This would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy."
It isn't yet clear when the special session will occur. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene this fall to redraw the state's political maps after the 2020 census.
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Rounding out the last-quarter corner of October, we are thrust toward the season of "the little death"—the sign of Scorpio—both inevitably transformational and potentially orgasmic.
This dying is simply a very natural and necessary process, as the year begins its closing. In Scorpio season, we are invited to look directly into our shadow and that of the world around us. This marks a significant end-of-a-cycle that began six months ago. This is the month of embracing the cycles of life, of looking death in the eyes, of embracing the very powerful process of transmutation and as we dive into it, remembering that rebirth is always imminent.
(*Note: When reading your monthly horoscope, it is always good to read not only your "SunSign" but also your "Ascendant"— referred to as your "Rising Sign".)
Aries: March 21-April 19
Arians, you may have felt like you have been on the stand the last months, and you have in many ways with so many planets in opposition to your Sun! Alas, you may feel emancipated from the resistance and this month return to your preferred state of passion and enthusiasm spurring new horizons of creative endeavors. Your flame may be burning so hot in fact, that you may well ignite a romantic interlude, however the dynamic may well end up requiring more than you are interested in investing. Your bigger picture continues to be on personal achievement, however this year you are learning that 'it takes a village'. The Nov. 19 full moon eclipse teaches you to let go of attachment, and the need to control all the strands of the web.
Taurus: April 20-May 20
Pleasure-seeking Taurus, Scorpio season is the double-edged sword for you. The Soul's 'urge to merge' entices you, while also eliciting apprehension as this level of union may open up the cellar doors. The Nov. 4 Scorpio new moon falls in your relationship sector this month, so just surrender to the pleasure principle as it allows and 'trust the process' that follows. Remember you are being activated this year to evolve, and getting our hands and hearts dirty is sometimes required. The Solar eclipse on Nov. 19 falls in your sign, which ignites a very karmic path that will unfold over the next year and a half in your favor. Your calm, steady, and creative demeanor and your gifts will be called to the front lines to bring a necessary balance to the world.
Gemini: May 21-June 20
Geminis, we love you for always 'keeping it light'. However, Scorpio season may require you to face some issues that have been boiling beneath the surface, especially in the workplace. Remember 'Twins', you are learning about duality this go-round, and that you can't have the 'light,' without also embracing the 'dark'. Freedom comes from this natural and necessary process of healing so sit back and learn something this month. The Taurus Solar eclipse Nov. 19 that falls in your 'house of The Mystic,' will reward you with a leap in your spiritual consciousness.
Cancer: June 21-July 22
Delicate Cancers, you have been forced out of your shell over and over, in the last year. The current evolutionary shift has so needed your gifts of love and compassion. Scorpio season for you may bring a wave of emotionality but nothing a good cry cannot navigate. This year your motherly gifts are called out of the house and into the larger community. At the Taurus solar eclipse, you may find yourself at the end or the beginning of the very significant community role. Remember that when one door closes, another opens, and that truly, 'home is where the heart is'.
Leo: July 23-Aug. 22
Bright-light-Leo's, Scorpio may not be your favorite season (except perhaps the costume party!) as the emerging shadows appear to be in contrast to your ever-lasting light! But relax and remember that 'dark', merely means 'hidden', and once revealed, gains access to more light! Hey Lions, the transformation for you this month, is with home and work. Change, healing, and progress are keywords, which may require fast decisions. The Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse lands in your career sector, so the question to ask is…"is this really what I want to be doing?" Your exuberant playfulness, joy and creativity are your greatest gifts. Be sure they are intricately woven into your path.
Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21
Creating order out of chaos is your specialty, vigilant Virgos. You welcome Scorpio season to clear out the cobwebs and get on with things. Do be careful not to become too focused on the distortions, remembering that 'what we focus on expands'. You are a pinnacle of this time of 'the Great Shift' and are upgrading quickly to meet the collective needs. The Scorpio new moon, and the Taurus lunar eclipse fall in your axis of 'information, knowledge, communication, and beliefs'. You are upgrading your mental circuitry. Don't hold onto anything, and trust that you will end up where you belong.
Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23
Love-hungry Libras, we know you always love Scorpio season because it means going deeper into the intimate realms and you are absolutely fine with whatever it takes! However, this month's Scorpio new moon invites a rebirth to your relationship with yourself, which is a reward after a long journey of introspection and growth. This journey brings you to a place of balance with self and others. This is your deepest work in this lifetime, so celebrate with an extra dose of self-care! There could be some financial upgrades this month. Consider partnering up, as a way of combining resources. Your gift of diplomacy may be called upon surrounding the Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse.
Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21
This is your big month all-powerful Scorpios… Happiest Re-Birth-Day to you! This is your moment to push the 'reset' button, shed last year's skin, and embody the fullness of your passion and purpose! The Nov. 4 new moon, also in your sign, is the invitation to surrender any old emotional pain and story, and get clear about your higher mission—as your strength and depth are greatly needed at this evolutionary threshold. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger relationship shifts, though exciting, may be fleeting, but remember every romantic soiree serves your evolution in some manner. Home and family continue to be a bit in flux, so live from the heart... while learning to let go and trust.
Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sagittarians, you are the leaders of great thought. You have been tested the last year to open your mind-horizons into areas that have brought discomfort. Sometimes you find it easier to hold onto old learned beliefs because the emerging new truths feel too destabilizing. The Nov. 4 New Moon awards you the opportunity to 'let go and trust' that all is going to be ok. You will continue to be tested in your capacity to 'listen' and communicate compassionately with others. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger some chaos at the job site but observe it with a higher mind, relax into the process; this restructuring is necessary and of the highest order. A renewed self-care regime could be the missing component to the balance you seek.
Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Wise and focused Capricorns, this month you may find great fulfillment putting your hard work to good use within the community. Though not your initial intention, your industrial focus may also come with unexpected healing of a past hurt around the Nov. 4 new moon. This year has put focus on refining your character, and to reassess what you truly value. Finances have also been serious business with the need to balance your spending with saving. But the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse is begging for you to lighten up a bit and play. Do something spontaneous and be open to a little romance, expected or unexpected!
Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Revolutionary Aquarians! You were born for these times and find yourself on the front lines of this fast-moving evolutionary train! Though you might have hoped humanity would be further along by now, you must not lose heart and continue to fine-tune your mental channels in order to guide us into the future. The Nov. 4 new moon may offer a new direction in your career, while the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may bring unexpected change in the home-front. You of all the signs understand that it is 'the storm' that precedes the greatest shifts... Keep holding the light and guiding with the certainty of your soul's light.
Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20
It's been rough waters for you this past year Pisces, as your empathic nature feels all the collective alchemical turmoil deep within. You are closing out some massive cycles requiring deep inquiry, surrender and trust. The Nov. 4 New Moon invites you to stretch your comfort zone and peer into the less pleasant aspects of life, in order to avoid bypassing and embody a balanced approach. You will be rewarded by the Lunar Eclipse Nov. 19 with an invitation to speak, write, teach, or perhaps just soul-enriching connections with others. Remember that your endless well of compassion is your greatest gift, and so needed on the planet at this time.
Shannon Gill is an Evolutionary Astrologer, Jungian Counselor, and the co-founder of 'The Shift Foundation' at Samadhi Retreat Center. To learn more about her work, or to schedule a personal session, you may contact her at shannonleigill.com.
Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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