Taylor Police Capt. Don Georgens said the proposed legislation leaves several unanswered questions.I'm not sure what the Taylor police chief is complaining about, since offenders are still being prosecuted, just their probation terms altered. Even Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, no softie on crime himself, admitted that, "What it does in terms of changing sentences for drug cases is fairly narrow."
“Laws are in the books to protect the community,” he said. “I believe personally that any drug offense is illegal and should be punished with the maximum sentence. Those that abuse drugs should be punished.”
Georgens said treatment programs should not replace prison or jail sentences.“I believe in giving everyone a second chance,” he said. “However, these programs should not be used in lieu of prosecution.
Indeed the bill has narrowed substantially from the original form that passed out of the House Corrections Committee two years ago. That version was dramatically scaled back at the request of then-Rep. Terry Keel, to look more like this one, actually (as the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward noted). Then, of course, the Governor vetoed HB 2193, directly resulting in Texas' current prison overcrowding crisis.
Apparently this time Chairman Madden has found compromise language that will pass most critics' and the governor's muster. HB 1678 is joint-authored by Speaker Pro Temp Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat, past Chair and current Corrections Committee member Pat Haggerty of El Paso, Jim McReynolds, a Democratic Corrections and Appropriations Committee member, and Austin Democrat Donna Howard - a truly bipartisan bunch. Of course, the bill passed by wide, bipartisan margins in both chambers in 2005, until the Governor vetoed it.
More on this as it develops, but for starters I thought I'd give readers a brief synopsis of what's in HB 1678, and just as important, what's not.
- Reduce maximum probation lengths from ten to five years ONLY for third degree felony drug and property crimes.
- Allow judge to credit time served in a treatment facility if the offender completes treatment.
- Reduces onerous community service requirements for all levels of offenders.
- Early release: Requires judge to notify state and defense attorneys and consider whether to reduce or terminate probation at one half probation length or two years, whichever is more.
- A judge can continue probation for the full term for offenders who threaten public safety.
- HB 1678 does not apply to alcohol-related offenses including DWI.
- It also does not apply to registered sex offenders.
If it's your idea of a good time or you work on these subjects professionally, be sure to take a look at the bill yourself.