only after it has received the scrutiny it should have received in committee. Criminal Jurisprudence has every appearance of being a talent-poor committee. This bill was rushed to the floor. Smithee, Hartnett, et al are going to need to keep a close eye on the committee's work for the rest of the session.Yow! I agree HB 8 (aka "Jessica's Law") needed better vetting, but how harsh is that?
HB 8 passed out of committee identically to the way Rep. Debbie Riddle, who is no criminal law expert, originally filed it. Chairman Peña passed it with barely a quorum present at a desk vote instead of at a regular meeting. The bill was rushed through calendars and its author was unprepared to accept any significant amendments.
Chairman Peña (or for that matter, the 7-2 Democratic majority on the committee) could have required amendments to the bill as a condition of bringing it up, or pended the bill until Riddle worked out amendments with the groups who testified against it. But he and the committee chose to vote for the law without exercising significant oversight. With hindsight, that was an obvious mistake.
Even so, "talent poor" is too derogatory - I'd have gone with "inexperienced and unproven."
I respect Chairman Peña, and I believe his committee has talent and a commitment to do the right thing. But, I thought it was a mistake to bring such a hot button issue up at the committee's first substantive meeting. With a rookie chairman and several new members, I think it would have been better to let the committee get a few less life-or-death bills under its belt before taking on the gravest possible topics.
Indeed, it was hard not to notice Peña's conspicuous absence during the debate over HB 8. He was listed as "absent" on the vote to postpone, but he was in town and attended the (amazing double overtime) UT-Texas A&M basketball game last night.
Still, it's not too late to allow any unspoken concerns lying in the hearts of committee members (even those who voted for the bill, as well as those who didn't attend the quickly called desk meeting) to surface on Monday. To her credit, Rep. Terri Hodge was the only Criminal Jurisprudence committee member to vocally criticize flaws in the bill.
This welcome delay gives the whole House a chance to come up with some amending language that will fix the worst problems with this highly politicized bill. I hope they take it. And I join Burka in hoping this committee's work doesn't have to be done on the House floor on the next controversial topic that comes their way.
See prior Grits coverage related to "Jessica's Law":
- Jessica's Law needs amending on the House floor
- Are child molesters rational, or not?
- Sex crimes and elderly prisoners' health costs
- The Real Cost of Jessica's Law: Deconstructing the Fiscal Note for HB 8
- 'I misremember it well: Eyewitness deficiencies
- Plenty of innocent names to attach to amendment for Jessica's Law
- Destruction of DNA evidence thwarts justice
- Innocence reforms needed to make sex offender law palatable
- House Corrections Committee: Community-based treatment more effective for sex offenders
- When tough on crime is hard on the coffers
- Victim advocates oppose sex offender enhancements
- Unintended consequence: Why the death penalty for repeat child molesters would harm children's safety