First up, and the most significant of the lot, is Chairman Jerry Madden's HB 1678, which is essentially similar to the probation-strengthening legislation Gov. Perry vetoed in 2005. This bill would shorten probation lengths and give offenders incentives to earn their way of supervision through good behavior, minimizing technical revocations, and reducing probation officer caseloads to more manageable levels. (See prior Grits coverage.)
The next six bills on the agenda are all from Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso), who is a former Chair of the Corrections Committee. Haggerty is a grisly, battle-hardened veteran on corrections topics, who may not be popular with the Speaker, but who knows the system extremely well, and whose opinions are ignored at one's peril.
When you listen to Rep. Haggerty talk about the prison system, you get the sense of a man who's just fed up with bungling and bureaucrats with a can't-do attitude. The things that are screwed up - particularly with Texas' probation system, which is by far the largest in the nation - are obvious from any political perspective and have been screwed up for years. Haggerty has heard all the excuses from the various players for many years now, and he appears not to care anymore. He speaks like a man who's incredibly exasperated at how bad many current policies are. These bills also suggest he's a man ready to enact significant changes rather than live with stupidity and futility. Cool! Here are the highlights from the Haggerty bills up Monday:
- HB 926 is a minor bill allowing judges to grant community supervision in certain cases resulting in "deferred adjudication."
- HB 927 allows a judge, at any time during the first two years of a defendant's incarceration sentence, to reduce the sentence to community supervision. Currently judges have that authority during the first 180 days of a sentence.
- HB 975 allows a judge who revokes a defendant's probation to credit the defendant with time spent on probation when calculating the required incarceration term.
- HB 1510 is an important bill that complements Madden's HB 1678 (above) - it shortens maximum probation terms to five years for all felons except violent so-called "3g" offenders.
- HB 1512 empowers judges to reduce or terminate felony community supervision at any time before the end of the probation term.
- HB 1514 expands the scope of pre-sentence reports from probation officers to judges to include any "information requested by the judge that relates to the defendant or the offense and that will permit the meaningful exercise of sentencing discretion.
The final bill on this exciting committee agenda was probably made moot by the announcement that the board of the Texas Youth Commission will resign today. Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale has proposed HB 3592 which would have terminated the current board.
Those are the highlights. Chairman Madden has declared that all bills heard in his committee will sit pending for at least a week to allow committee members an opportunity to consider them (I think that's a really good policy, one I wish all chairmen so rigorously followed), so if you've got an opinion on these bills, you can either give it to them at the hearing Monday or communicate with committee members in the coming week.