AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following the end of the Texas Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott has already or is poised to sign seven bills into law that were prompted by KXAN investigations.

HB 30: Closing the ‘dead suspect loophole’

House Bill 30 centered on closing the “dead suspect loophole,” an exemption in place since 1997 intended the privacy of those wrongfully accused. In the years since, the loophole has emerged that has allowed law enforcement agencies across the state to deny families, lawyers and journalists from accessing records involving someone who died in police custody and, therefore, would never go to court.

This loophole has been the central focus of DENIED, a six-year KXAN investigation spanning four legislative sessions that has encouraged policymakers to close the legal gap. The initiative gained momentum this legislative session following the Robb Elementary mass shooting in Uvalde last May, where the gunman died.

KXAN Investigates’ DENIED series (KXAN Photo)

It now heads to Abbott’s desk and awaits signature. If signed, the policy will go into effect Sept. 1.

HB 718: Paper license plate ban

Lawmakers passed House Bill 718 as a means of getting rid of paper license plates in Texas, with the goal to help ensure metal plates will replace temporary dealer plates.

KXAN’s Risky Rides series has investigated the $200 million black market impacting the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles system. Through the illicit efforts, criminals have sold counterfeit tags, which turned vehicles into virtually untraceable “ghost cars” and impacted all 50 states. The Teas Department of Motor Vehicles has until Dec. 1, 2024 to create a rule to solidify the change.

KXAN Investigates’ Risky Rides series (KXAN Photo)

The legislation now awaits Abbott’s signature. If signed, it will go into effect July 1, 2025.

HB 1998: Medical board reform

KXAN’s Still Practicing investigative series revealed physicians were able to come to Texas and continue their practice with clean records listed on their Texas Medical Board profiles, despite having their licenses revoked elsewhere.

KXAN Investigates’ Still Practicing series (KXAN Photo)

The investigation directly prompted House Bill 1998, a medical board reform initiative that aimed to make it a Class A misdemeanor to lie on medical license applications and prevent doctors who had their licenses revoked elsewhere from practicing in Texas. Additionally, it would require fingerprinting and monthly monitoring of all physicians with the National Practitioner Data Bank.

Lawmakers passed HB 1998, which now heads to Abbott’s desk for his signature. If signed into law, it would take effect Sept. 1.

SB 49: Crime victims compensation funding

Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 49, a legislative item designed to expand access to Texas’ crime victims compensation fund and increase payouts for specific claims. The legislation expands eligibility for household members of victims, enhances relocation compensation as well as lost wages for family members of deceased victims, among other changes.

KXAN’s Held Up investigation dove into problems reported with the program in the past years, with several program employees saying they were overworked and the program was understaffed. Records pulled from the Texas Attorney General’s Office found it takes approximately six months, on average, for victims to receive their first payment following a claim — a record high for the program.

KXAN Investigates’ Held Up series (KXAN Photo)

Now signed by Abbott, it will take effect on Sept. 1.

SB 490: Hospitalized itemized invoice requirement

Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 490, which aims to make medical billing a more transparent process.

KXAN’s Medical Debt Lawsuits investigations discovered a Central Texas hospital sued hundreds of patients for unpaid medical bills. Several patients told KXAN they received vague bills without itemized invoices.

KXAN Investigates’ Medical Debt Lawsuits series (KXAN Photo)

SB 490 requires hospitals to provide written and understandable itemized invoices before referring patients to collections.

Now signed, the law is set to take effect Sept. 1.

SB 1414: Vet board reform

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1414, which is designed to temporarily link the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners with another state agency to help with data collection and management concerns. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation will help assist the vet board with policymaking and administrative oversight for the next four years.

Also included in the legislation is a provision that would allow the vet board to retain any rulemaking capabilities on issues related to “scope of practice” and medical concerns.

KXAN’s Vetting Your Pet’s Vet series did a deep dive into the state agency tasked with licensing and regulating animal doctors. Part of the investigation revealed dozens of disciplinary records were missing from the state agency’s look-up tool, ultimately resulting in top agency officials resigning.

KXAN Investigates’ Vetting Your Pet’s Vet series (KXAN Photo)

The legislation was sent to the governor’s desk where it awaits signature. If signed, it will take effect Sept. 1.

SB 1445: TCOLE reform

Lawmakers passed this session Senate Bill 1445, an extensive bill pertaining to reform efforts with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The bill is designed to give TCOLE more power to hold police accountable, approve new departments and license new officers, among other changes.

The bill followed recommendations made by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which described TCOLE as “toothless” in a review.

KXAN’s Bargaining the Badge investigation analyzed nearly 300 peace officer license surrenders over a four-year timespan, with nearly all of those involved officers accused of or charged with a crime. In nearly every case KXAN evaluated, officers used their license surrender as a bargaining tool to avoid jail or prison.

KXAN Investigates’ Bargaining the Badge series (KXAN Photo)

The legislation gives TCOLE the ability to set minimum standards for new departments, as well as creates a publicly searchable database of licensed peace officers within Texas. The agency is also tasked with checking personnel files of new applicants with previous work in other states to ensure their licenses weren’t revoked elsewhere.

If signed into law by Abbott, the legislation would take effect Sept. 1.