As the new year begins, so do many new laws. 

One of which is Texas Senate Bill 1611 also referred to as the Michael Morton Act. The act is designed to ensure a more open discovery process.

Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted in 1987 in a Williamson County, Texas court for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. He spent nearly 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence which supported his claim of innocence and pointed to the crime being committed by another individual. Morton was released from prison on Oct. 4, 2011 and  the prosecutor was convicted of contempt of court for withholding evidence after the judge had ordered its release to the defense.

On May 16, 2013, Governor Rick Perry signed the bill into law.

According to Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough, his office already had an open file policy. In addition to being required to share their files, the DA’s office will also be required to have a permanent electronic file of each case from misdemeanors to felonies.

SB651 relates to a medical power of attorney. It states this document gives the person named as their agent the authority to make any and all health care decisions in accordance with the other person’s wishes, including their religious and moral beliefs, when they are no longer capable of making them. Because “health care” means any treatment, service, or procedure to maintain, diagnose, or treat physical or mental condition, the agent has the power to make a broad range of health care decisions. The agent may consent, refuse to consent, or withdraw consent to medical treatment and may make decisions about withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment. However, the agent may not consent to voluntary inpatient mental health services, convulsive treatment, psycho surgery or abortion. A physician must comply with the agent ’s instructions or allow the person to be transferred to another physician. The agent ’s authority begins when a doctor certifies that the person lacks the competence to make health care decisions.

HB849 is relating to rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities, including with respect to the use of service animals that provide assistance to those persons; providing penalties.

HB 195 is about the availability on the Internet of reports of political expenditures and contributions filed in connection with certain county and municipal offices. This Act took effect Sept. 1, 2013, except Section 3(b) which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.

SB7 was designed to help people with disabilities, those in mental and rehabilitation facilities whether they are managed or long-term. The bill is aimed at improving the delivery and quality of certain health and human services, including the delivery and quality of Medicaid acute care services and long-term services and supports.

For the Orange County Tax Assessor-Collector, Lynda Gunstream, and others like her, SB546 dictates the training needed.

A county assessor-collector must successfully complete 20 hours of continuing education before each anniversary of the date on which the county assessor-collector takes office. The continuing education must include at least 10 hours of instruction on laws relating to the assessment and collection of property taxes for a county assessor-collector who assesses or collects property taxes. In addition,  a county assessor-collector will have to successfully complete continuing education courses on ethics and on the constitutional and statutory duties of the county assessor-collector not later than the 90th day after the date on which the county assessor-collector first takes office.

There are some laws in Texas that will take effect Jan. 1, but they are contingent upon voters, too.

HB 97 which is relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the appraised value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization. This Act takes effect but only if HJR 24 is approved by the voters.

HB 3121 has the same qualifications. It relates to the qualifications for the exemption from ad valorem taxation for aircraft parts located in this state for a limited time. The law will take effect, but only if HJR 133 is approved by the voters.

SB 163  relates to an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a member of the armed services of the United States who is killed in action. This Act takes effect Jan. 1, too,  but only if HJR 62 is approved by the voters.

There are some federal laws too which will make an impact on many who rely on help to survive. The 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, benefits ended on Nov. 1, 2013, resulting in a benefit cut for every SNAP household. For families of three, the cut is $29 a month which is a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014, the remaining months of fiscal year 2014. This is a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits. Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.