Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Texas Senate Approves Jessica's Law

HB 8 ("Jessica's Law") passed the Texas Senate today. The legislation will now go to a conference committee to work out differences with the House, then soon make its way to the Governor's desk, who is almost certain to sign it. This politically driven change to the law enacts super-tuff and extremely costly penalties for child molestation cases that in this writer's opinion probably make victims less safe.

Though prosecutors and victims rights groups opposed the legislation because it would make victims less likely to report crimes, and give predators incentives murder victims, that didn't seem to matter to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and company who strongarmed votes for the most draconian version of the legislation. This is a disappointment, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the law altered by future Legislatures when the obvious unintended consequences - of which members were well informed - begin to manifest in the real world.

Kudos to Sen. Rodney Ellis who cast the lone "no" vote on the legislation.

UDPATE: See AP's initial coverage, and also the Austin Statesman. A good post from Patti Hart at BurkaBlog has more details on the compromise. She writes:
Luckily for the state of Texas, Dewhurst has been forced to significantly change the bill in order to get enough votes to pass it out of the Texas Senate. At the urging of many outspoken senators and prosecutors, a revised proposal calls for a minimum 25-year sentence only for enhanced cases of aggravated sexual assault, when the crime includes particularly egregious circumstances like kidnapping or use of a weapon or violence.

This change was critical to win support of prosecutors. Since approximately 80 percent of child sex abuse involves family members, an automatic 25-year prison term would dissuade families from seeking prosecution. "If a child knows that Uncle Harry is going to prison for 25 years, she's not likely to testify," a lawmaker explained to me.

Likewise, prosecutors did not want an automatic death penalty, and even questioned its constitutionality. The latest draft of the bill, sponsored by Bob Deuell, gives prosecutors the option of life without parole or the death penalty upon the second conviction for an enhanced aggravated sexual assault.
Hart wrote that support for the bill in the Senate, though broad in the end, was only an "inch deep," and that "clinging to a false issue" had cost the Lieutenant Governor significant political capital.

MORE from The Texas Observer blog.

SEE prior Grits posts on Jessica's Law:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

What concerns me about the bill (among other things) is the unlimited SOL of indecency with a child.

This crime is usually not a touching crime and could even be from a distance. It is also usually a he said/she said crime. What is to prevent a "victim" from popping up 50 years in the future and suddenly remembering that he/she saw (at the age of 16) that now rich man masturbating in his car many years ago? Or perhaps seeing him urinating on the side of his house? Nothing.

Coming from a divorce where my attorney said that now over 50% of all contested child custody cases claim child abuse in one form another... this race to severly punish all child issue crimes with no time limits is scary to the max.

To be honest, I sometimes wish I never had kids (they are grown now anyway) and I certainly stay away from strangers kids at all costs now. And that means if I go into a public restroom and a kid is in there, I wait till he leaves... and everyone else should too.

Anonymous said...

It is more important to protect children than to exact punishment from thoese who would harm them. I believe it was Bob Dylan that said "If you want to live outside the law, you must obey it." Our legislators have lost sight of the fundamental goals of criminal law.

No wonder people have no respect for law enforcement. The laws being enforced are horrible!

sunray's wench said...

anon @ 9.42 ~ that's exactly the point Grits has been making: this law WILL NOT protect kids.

Random child abductions are very rare, parents on the whole are pretty good at keeping their kids safe from strangers. What parents are not that good at (and I'm a parent too) is keeping their kids safe from drugs, alcohol, people who run red lights or speed in built up areas, teenage pregnancy, obesity etc etc

Anonymous said...

What this bill will do however, is keep DA's and defense lawyers quite busy. And with no more statute of limitations, it's like a forever gravy train of money - all in the name of "protecting our children" ala runaway DA's like the recent Duke case.

TCADP said...

The Texas Legislatures response to this bill gives us a clear pulse of where they stand...more than willing to bend to political pressure and operate from the fear of retribution from those they work with at the Capitol.

In the face of victims groups, social workers, and prosecutors saying no to this bill they said YES. It was Dewhurts' baby and he wants to live in the mansion around the corner. The House of Representatives proved they are just as scared of Craddick, caving in the same way. Like a bunch of boys trying to see who has the biggest muscles.

Our Senators and Representatives don't seem to represent us or be willing to stand up for good policy for our state. One would think that David Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick elected them to office.

Kudos to Senator Ellis for having the courage and the few in the House of Representatives as well.

Anonymous said...

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