Friday, January 06, 2006

Austin Chronicle Retrospectives

Check out the Austin Chronicle's lists of top ten drug war and criminal justice stories from the Texas capital in 2005. It's interesting to me that the Chronicle's top ten retrospectives had such a big criminal justice focus. In years past they would have been more focused on the environment or urban development.

UPDATE: The Chronicle's drug war list missed one of the biggest Texas stories, so I wrote them the following LTE to remind them:
It's true medical marijuana didn't get out of committee in the Texas Lege, but a bigger story, IMO, was that the same committee (House Criminal Jurisprudence) approved HB 254 unanimously, with Republicans Mary Denny, Terry Keel and Debbie Riddle voting for it along with former drug task force commander Democrat Juan Escobar. That bill would have reduced the penalties for low-level marijuana possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor -- meaning a traffic ticket-like fine and a drug education class comparable to what's currently required in Austin for paraphernalia charges.

Speaker Tom Craddick and the Calendars Committee didn't let the bill get a vote on the House floor, but it cleared committee mostly for financial reasons: with Class Bs counties must pay incarceration and indigent defense costs, while Class Cs generate fines and revenue, with fewer associated expenses. With county jails like Travis' and most others completely full, that legislation should still have legs in future sessions.
I thought that committee vote was a bigger deal than the press seems to -- a unanimous, bipartisan vote to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession? Come on! If medical marijuana's failure in Texas made the top ten, surely HB 254 passing the same committee with no opposition was bigger news?

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