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Diversity offices on college campuses will soon be illegal in Texas, as 30 new laws go into effect

Students head to class on the second day of the semester at San Jacinto College's North Campus in Houston in this 2014 file photo.
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
Students head to class on the second day of the semester at San Jacinto College's North Campus in Houston in this 2014 file photo.

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DENTON — When Texas college students return to their campuses after the winter break, they’ll discover the lights are still off in their campuses’ diversity offices.

That’s because a new law that outlaws such work at the state’s higher education institutions goes into effect, Jan. 1.

Another 29 laws also will go into effect in the new year that aim to change the economy, tax codes and the criminal justice system.

Many of the new laws seek to streamline tax codes and update property appraisal processes, while others touch on more unique issues like e-cigarette usage in minors and commemorative state license plates. Here are some of the laws:

Dissolving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at public universities: Senate Bill 17 requires public universities to end so-called diversity, equity and inclusion work. Universities will also be unable to offer training on diversity and inclusion for its faculty and staff, or require diversity statements in hiring processes. Universities must also confirm to the Legislature between legislative sessions that they are in full compliance.

Education UTSA to close Office of Inclusive Excellence in compliance with new DEI law Marian Navarro

While the law is set to go into effect Jan. 1, many of Texas’ public universities have already begun ramping down their DEI practices and programs after the governor’s chief of staff sent a memoin February calling DEI hiring initiatives illegal. Since the law’spassing in May, general counsels for the universities have released varying levels of guidance throughout the fall semester on how to continue to support a diverse student body while staying within the boundaries of the law.

In addition to the dissolution of DEI offices, universities have also shut down university-led student support programs as concern mounts as to whether they also violate the law, but some colleges are looking for workarounds. The University of North Texas’ president Neal Smatresk announced in an email to students Dec. 1 that a new Center for Belonging and Engagement would be established to continue to promote inclusivity as the school’s multicultural center and pride alliance close.

The law’s restrictions do not apply to class instruction, materials needed for federal grant applications or student organizations on campuses, but multiple university officials have said the law has made hiring new faculty more difficult.

Streamlining tax exemptions for elderly and inheritances: Several new laws loosen requirements on reappraisals for spouses and children who inherit property and switch certain appraisal processes. Senate Bill 1381 allows certain tax exemptions on homes to carry over to a person’s spouse after they die if they are 65 years or older, and House Bill 4077 removes the need for seniors to apply for homestead exemptions, instead making it the responsibility of the local appraisal district. House Bill 2354 will make it so if a landowner leaves property to their spouse, the land will not be considered as having transferred ownership for tax purposes.

Diverting minors charged with Class C misdemeanors: House Bill 3186 creates an alternative to fines for minors charged with class C misdemeanors, such as petty theft or possession of alcohol, instead allowing them to be enrolled in “diversion plans” designed to support them. The law outlines several options for programs, ranging from community service to mandatory mental health treatment, and requires justices and municipal courts to adopt their own plan outlines. It also allows courts to hire a youth diversion coordinator to help track program participants. A child is only eligible for the programs once every 365 days, and is ineligible if the state attorney objects or the child has already unsuccessfully participated in a diversion program. A child can only be diverted from criminal prosecution with written consent from their parents.

Expanding exemptions for charitable organizations: Several laws going into effect will provide tax relief for charitable organizations, especially those that are investing in new low-income housing.House Bill 1058 gives tax credits to those that have investments in low-income housing, andHouse Bill 4645 allows organizations to receive tax exemptions on construction of low-income housing, even if they are leasing the land the construction takes place on.House Bill 456 also exempts charitable organizations from taxes on certain interests of minerals on properties they own.

Creating new standard for Homeowner Association fees: House Bill 614requires homeowner association boards to adopt standardized enforcement policies that detail how they enforce fines — including how much the fines are. It requires a list of potential violations that HOAs must have displayed on their website.

Restricting advertising e-cigarettes to minors: House Bill 4758 makes it a class B misdemeanor to sell e-cigarette products that use images of food, celebrities or cartoon characters on their packaging, in an effort to slow vaping use among minors. More thantwo million K-12 students use e-cigarette products nationwide, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Helping doctors understand patient insurance plans: House Bill 4500 will require insurance providers to create internet portals health care providers can access to determine what kinds of insurance plans their patients have in order to streamline the insurance process. The secure portal would tell physicians whether the provider is covered by the patient’s insurance and the patients’ copay, deductible and coinsurance where applicable.

Disclosure: University of North Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Ayden Runnels, The Texas Tribune