ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today in Texas, more than 650 new laws that were passed earlier this year take effect. They include many politically conservative priorities. And while other Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar bills around the country, none of those states is as big as Texas.
Rachel Osier Lindley is a statewide editor for The Texas Newsroom, a collaboration between Texas public radio stations and NPR. Good to have you here, Rachel.
RACHEL OSIER LINDLEY: Hey, yeah. Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with abortion. Texas now has the most restrictive abortion rules in the country. What does this mean for people in the state?
LINDLEY: This new law bans someone from getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected, so about six weeks. And that's before a lot of people even know that they're pregnant. That has many abortion rights advocates calling this basically a ban on the procedure in Texas. There's also no exemption in this law for rape victims. And similar laws like that in most other states where they have been passed, they've been blocked by the courts before going into effect, so I really can't overstate how big a deal it is that this is happening today in Texas.
Texas abortion providers have also petitioned the Supreme Court in an effort to stop the law, and they're still waiting on a response. What's really unique about the Texas law is instead of the state creating criminal penalties for people who violate the law, now, anyone can bring a lawsuit against someone who's suspected of helping a pregnant person access an abortion. And of course, for those who are against abortion, this is being hailed as a huge victory.
SHAPIRO: Another huge issue around the country has been voting access. And Texas lawmakers have been fighting over a set of restrictions that passed yesterday but have not been signed into law. Today, a different set of voting rules are taking effect. Explain what is happening with voting rights in the state.
LINDLEY: So first, yes, that bill that you mentioned, that would stop things like 24-hour voting, change rules around voting by mail and would give more power to partisan poll watchers. But separately today, a slew of these other Republican priority voting-related bills are going into effect. And some critics say that these could remove people of color and younger people from the voter rolls.
Texans can now, for instance, no longer use a P.O. box to register to vote. The Republican lawmaker behind this one commented, this is important since no one lives in a 2-by-3 inch box. But Democrats and some election officials say this new law assumes everyone has a traditional living situation. Another new law makes it harder to request a mail-in ballot for medical reasons. And then there's one that allows the Texas secretary of state to cut funding to voter registrars if they don't remove certain people from the voter rolls.
SHAPIRO: OK. So while the package of laws taking effect today make it more difficult to obtain an abortion, they now make it easier for people in Texas to carry a gun. Tell us about that.
LINDLEY: Yes. The big one going into effect today - if you can legally own a handgun in Texas, you no longer need any sort of permit or training to carry it in public in a holster. Supporters call this constitutional carry. And Texas will be, I believe, the 20th state to allow it.
It is controversial, though, even here. A polling shows that a slight majority of Texans don't think it's a good idea, and some law enforcement groups have also come out against it; the big concern being, you know, more handguns in public, some carried by people who may not necessarily know how to use them. Because before, to get this license to carry, you would have to take a class and then demonstrate some basic proficiency with your weapon.
SHAPIRO: And Republicans in many states have been passing bans on teaching critical race theory in schools. What does the new Texas law about critical race theory do?
LINDLEY: This law outlines how teachers can approach discussions about history and current events in class, along with some really complex topics like racism and sexism. And as we've seen in other states where these laws have recently come up, in Texas, Democrats, along with some educators' groups, they really worry that it'll have a chilling effect on teachers and make them hesitant to tackle some of these big issues in class.
SHAPIRO: Some of the laws taking effect have the support of Democrats and Republicans. Tell us about a couple of those.
LINDLEY: Sure, yeah. So eligibility for medical marijuana is expanding, so thousands more people will now be able to access low-THC medical cannabis oil, and that oil can also contain a bit more THC. It's also now easier for Texas seniors and some disabled Texans to get food aid through SNAP. And we were mentioning voting laws earlier. There's a new bipartisan measure going into effect today that'll let Texans track their mail-in ballots online.
SHAPIRO: That's Rachel Osier Lindley, a statewide editor for The Texas Newsroom. Thanks a lot.
LINDLEY: Yeah, you're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY'S "YOUR HAND IN MINE")
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