Thursday, May 17, 2007

What happened to Texas' Innocence Commision?

MORE: A Glimmer of Hope: Innocence and Redemption

UPDATE
: The Texas Politics blog reports that this bill died in committee. As Chairman Peña predicted, three Democrats weren't there for the vote, though I can't tell yet from the record who they were. I'll have more to say about the performance of various criminal justice-related committees once session is done, but I'll reiterate now that IMO this lapse caps off a very poor session for this group. Paul Burka called the committee "talent poor" earlier in the session, and I responded that we should give them a chance, that the 7 Democrats on the committee represented one of the party's best opportunities to show that they could govern. However if one were to judge solely on this committee's performance, one would have to say they're simply not ready to wield power, whatever one may think of their opposition. I'm not trying to be unfair, I'm just calling balls and strikes ... and with this bunch, not seeing many strikes.

See the feisty comment string for more opinions on the subject.

* * *

Hey, Chairman Aaron Peña, what happened to Sen. Ellis' Innocence Commission bill that went to your committee? You remember - the one that laid around the Inbox for three weeks before you gave it a hearing?

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted out the rest of the bills heard with it yesterday, but I can't believe they're letting this one lay there: SB 263 creating an Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions.

Uh ... why?

This is a committee dominated by Democrats, four of whom are from Dallas which is the Wrongful Conviction Capital of the nation, and so far as a group they have only racked up votes to make it MORE likely innocent people are convicted. Now they're not going to vote on this?

When it comes to expanding wiretapping authority they couldn't move fast enough.

Chairman Peña, what are you doing? If you don't plan to hold a desk meeting to kick this thing out pronto, would you mind explaining your reasons why not? Are you really going to only pass bills that encourage use of questionable evidence and sit on bills that might free innocent people?

What the hell?

Did I mention that I H-A-T-E May of odd numbered years.

43 comments:

The Rep. said...

The bill came before the committee and did not have the votes to pass. I instructed the House sponser to round up the votes and to make sure they showed up at next voting session on Friday. I spoke to Senator Ellis last night and told him we now had the votes and that he needed to make sure they were there on Friday. I am somewhat disappointed to learn from a lobbiest that his staff has sent out a press release to Burnt Orange Report that has muddied the water.

Anonymous said...

Boy I would hate to be that staffer. He may have killed it.

Anonymous said...

Grits, what in the hell is wrong with you guys and Burnt Orange, are you guys trying to screw this up!

Anonymous said...

The Ellis office sent out no press such release. Period.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ah, I actually hadn't seen BOR or the press release (readers see here for what we're talking about.)

I can see why you're unhappy about that press release, Rep.. I have to say, though, I'm pretty unhappy at whichever Democrats were stalling this bill, not to mention those who voted this session to make it easier to convict innocent people. That's an embarrassment, especially for the rookie Dallas reps who should be following the example of their new DA. Honestly, how many innocent Texans must be exonerated from prison before it's enough to justify addressing the problem? More than we've had so far, apparently.

Glad y'all are going to give it a vote on Friday, and let's hope it's not too late to pass it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FYI, the comment from Ellis' office came in while I was writing my reply. Upon second examination, I see the press release linked at BOR is an old one used to describe the bill, not a release about this committee vote. If anybody did get such a release, forward it on, but I didn't see one.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like the vote is now scheduled for Friday and it may not have been if BOR had not posted on it. Some people are always needlessly worried about everybody but them "screwing things" up, like whoever wrote this:

Grits, what in the hell is wrong with you guys and Burnt Orange, are you guys trying to screw this up!

5/17/2007 12:27 PM

Anonymous said...

If Rep. Pena told Sen Ellis last night that he was voting the bill out on Friday and he told the House author earlier in the week, how does Burnt Orange Report try to take credit for doing anything other than screwing things up!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 2:27 - If Chairman Peña told Rep. Thompson, the House sponsor, he'd give her a vote, a blog post shouldn't change his mind, especially since it turns out there wasn't a press release.

I'm more concerned to hear the Chairman say that three Democrats opposed an Innocence Commission earlier this week, which in a 7-2 D committee would be the minimum necessary to join Talton and Riddle to block the bill. (And honestly, I'm surprised at them.) Since the bill is going to get a vote, it's water under the bridge, but that tells me there was good reason for concern. It had been announced that Tuesday was the last committee hearing of the session.

Thanks again, Chairman, for updating us on the status and for giving the bill a vote.

Anonymous said...

Boy have you guys got it wrong again. Tuesday was the last day to hear testimony. Yesterday, that being Wednesday, the committee had a formal voting meeting. Another voting session was announced and scheduled for Friday. Ellis people along with you other enablers have probably killed the bill.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

anon, the chair has said the bill will get a vote and has the necessary majority. Why do you doubt him, and why do you get angrier with each response? I don't understand either aspect of your comments.

Anonymous said...

Ellis's staff has believed all along, for what it's worth, that they had the votes to get the bill out of committee. Senator Ellis is usually pretty good at counting heads, which is why he's been fairly successful.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound like this is "screwed up" at all like anon keeps implying, but if anyone has hurt the chances of this passing, it is whoever took so long to find five votes for this bill on that committee with 7 Democrats on it.

Anonymous said...

That would be Ellis & staff. They are known for being lazy.

Anonymous said...

Counting heads my ass, the senator is told on Wednesday the bill is going to get out on Friday and he sends out the attack dogs on the eve of the vote. It sounds to me that this senator is simply full of himself and couldn't understand why everything should be dropped for his highness. Hell alot of us have been working on this project only to have a senators ego get in the way.

Anonymous said...

Burnt Orange Report much like this one is a liberal blog. The sad thing is that BOR allowed themselves to be used by Ellis' office to attack fellow Democrats on a House committee. I sure hope this blog does not stoop to such lengths. I have to agree with the previous posts, why didn't Ellis or the House sponser line up their votes before taking the low road.

Anonymous said...

This has the Ellis m/o all over it. My view of the senator is not what it once was.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why are y'all beating a dead horse here? The Chair said the bill would get a vote and has the numbers. Where does the anger come from? There was NO press release - the meme that Ellis launched a media attack is a myth. What you had was a lot of buzz from insiders who feared the bill would die. Given the late date, I don't blame them.

BTW, You can label me a liberal if you like, but I don't refrain from criticizing Ds or Rs when they don't do the right thing. The fact is, this committee has been basically awful - they generated zero bills to address innocence questions themselves, opposed most progressive bills that came before them, passed enhancements like they were going out of style, and their only big accoplishments this session will be the Senate bills they pass. For the most part, they vote as though they'd prefer convicting more innocent people and think locking people up is the only possible solution to any social problem. That's the truth, Dems or not, and it's been a huge disappointment. If it's accurate (Ellis' office said they had the votes) that three Dems opposed the bill earlier this week, why cover for them? That's absurd, and further evidence of why this committee has been a HUGE disappointment.

I hope they pass this bill, but if they don't the innocence projects will keep the exonerations coming. It would definitely say more about this committee than the merits of the bill if they failed to approve it, especially if that failure was because they didn't like what me or BOR said in a blog post.

Anonymous said...

Ellis is known for being lazy? Well, I wish we had more lazy Democrats like him because he sure seems to get a lot of things done.

JT Barrie said...

Haven't you ever heard the Meese expression: "if you're a suspect, then your guilty"? Obviously you are in favor of letting criminals get away with what they do. Any moron can see that!

Anonymous said...

The bill was never intentionally stalled in committee. The bill was referred to the committee on April 25th. The House was approaching a deadline on May 7th for House Committee Reports to get out of the committee. Therefore, at the May 1st hearing, the committee decided to only listen to remaining house bills, and only take action on senate bills which already had companion house bills that had received testimony. On May 8th, Chairman Pena suspended the 5-day posting rule to consider SB 263 for a hearing on May 9th. However, on May 9th, the House adjourned from the floor 11:28 p.m., and Chairman Pena was unable to achieve a quorum for a hearing. Therefore, the bill was postponed until the next hearing, which was May 15th. As usual practice of the committee, the bill was considered and the members listened to testimony, and finally, the bill was left pending. On May 16th, the Chair decided to consider SB 263 for a vote during a floor meeting. The bill did not have the necessary votes at that time, and therefore, the Chair decided not to pursue the bill at that time. I understand that there are nine members on the committee; however, with deadlines approaching, and the end of session near, members have to attend several meetings/hearings at the same time. Therefore, it is difficult to have all nine members present. At this hearing, there were six members present, and there was not enough votes to pass the bill out of committee. Today, May 18th, the Chair brought up SB 263 for a vote during the formal meeting. SB 263 failed to receive the affirmative votes with a vote of 4-2. It should be noted that the Chair voted for the bill.

Anonymous said...

So, you're saying when rounding up votes, they don't count if the members supporting aren't present?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know if this bill was intentionally stalled in committee or not. I DO know it wasn't intentionally passed. It wasn't treated as important in the same way that wiretapping or expanding the death penalty or making unreliable evidence admissible were priorities for this committee.

The version of "there weren't enough votes" is disputed by the bill sponsor and author, so I don't know who to believe on that. (I've been told the sponsor had her votes on Wednesday, and the chair said she did not.) But I do know this committee passed MANY bad bills, and that the chair did not use his leverage to make this bill happen the way he did other, much worse ideas - that's my beef. It's not just this bill, I tend to be forgiving about actual mistakes, time lapses, and the occasional bad vote - it's a cumulative bad record and misplaced priorities of the committee all session long that most bother me. This isn't the first time I've said it, it's just that now with session nearly done we have a more complete oeuvre of work to evaluate.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who buys the line of baloney by anonymous at 3:04, I have a bridge to sell you.

If the chair really supported the bill, and the 6 other Ds on the committee had pledged their vote to Representative Thompson, then that bill flies out of there.

Period.

Everyone involved in this process knows exactly what happened here.

Anonymous said...

What happened is that Ellis and staff not only acted like children but they failed to follow up on their basics like getting their votes to the hearing. Face it they poisoned this vote and probably alienated that one vote they needed to pass the bill.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:06 - Stop trolling and say who you are if you're going to talk dirt.

And then answer this: Which vote do you think they alienated - which Democrat are you saying is so petty they'd prefer to let innocent people languish in prison out of spite over something a blogger said?

That's pure silliness. This isn't junior high.

Anonymous said...

So Ellis' office alienated and poisoned the "one vote needed" three weeks ago? Because the bill sat in committee like a log with no action at all from the committee. None.

It's good to know that the crack crew at the committee were ready to do something on the bill on the last day possible, though.

But, I think most readers are confused by one niggling fact. If, after all, the Chairman told Senator Ellis on Wednesday night that "we now had the votes", what happened to the "we"? If the Chair supported the bill, all 6 of the other Democrats also supported it, why wasn't the vote made when more than enough supporters were in attendance today? The vote is at the discretion of the chair, so why were other bills voted on when SB 263 supporters were at the ready? Why did the vote only take place after supporters LEFT the hearing.

The truth is that due diligence of Thompson or Ellis has nothing to do with it. The supporters were there. It wasn't until the vote needed to put the bill over the top left that SB 263 was brought for a vote. Inconvenient timing, that!

Everyone knows what happened here, and Grits has pretty much summed up the performance of the committee all session, so no need to belabor the point.

Bravo, minions. Bravo. The innocent folks in prison clang their cups on the bars of their cells in your honor.

Anonymous said...

Why oh why did you people not ask your votes to remain? Keep looking for excuses, you people lost this one.

Anonymous said...

Who was the staffer by the way that started all this?

Anonymous said...

I think Grits has lost it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Lost it, troll? Why?

Anonymous said...

You choose to believe the House sponsor who told you today she had the votes to prevail and yet the facts are that they were not there when the vote occurred? Your bias is showing. They were clearly wrong or decieved you, yet you still chose to side with their mangled perception of reality. Liberals need to live in the present reality not in some imagined world as they see it.

Anonymous said...

So you want us to believe Senfronia Thompson is a liar, Rodney Ellis is ineffective, Grits doesn't know what it's talking about, and Ellis staff is lazy, but Pena, who bailed on the voter id vote and who's been a puppet for prosecutors as a committee chair, was the sole champion of justice here ? Seriously? Strong words from Pena minions. Perhaps if you spent less time trying to defend your your shameless actions in the blogosphere, and more time using your Chairmanship to improve fairness and promoting justice in the Texas Criminal Justice system, this whole thing would have never ocurred. I'm sure your constituents are proud. Lets hope none of them are ever wrongfully convicted.

Anonymous said...

This blog is pitifull, defender of child molesters and murders.

Lenny said...

As a former prosecutor I am amused at the jabber I am seeing on this site. I keep up with criminal justice issues here. I for the most part enjoy your comments but on this one you are way out of line. The proposal is and was bad policy. As you can see there is a strong emotional divide that exists between prosecutors and those that side with the accused or convicted. This proposal is ripe for abuse most especially if it is expanded. Lastly, you seem too emotionaly invested in this one. Why have you let so much anger come out because you lost the vote count? I believe it is because you wrongly believe or were led to believe the votes were there. I could not help but notice that the votes that failed to support your proposal with their absence were all Democrats and left of center in their politics. I hope to see a better effort in the future.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:57 - You're a troll. Re-read my comments. I said Pena and Thompson contradicted one another and I didn't know who to believe. Pena said in the first comment the votes were there. Did he lie? You're an ass, and a coward for making such trollish statements anonymously.

And Lenny, the only emotionalism here is from the opponents, and I'm the one that pointed out it was Democrats causing the problem and criticized them for it. I even said in the UPDATE is was evidence that party couldn't govern - what's your point? You don't appear to understand the terms of this debte. What emotionalism are you talking about? All I did was accurately asssess this committee's legislative oeuvre for the year - no anger involved, more sadness, really. Also, is it bad public policy for a reason or just because you're a former prosecutor and you said so?

Finally, to the writer who says I defend child molesters and murderers, you don't know what you're taling about. I only don't want innocnent people convicted for those crimes, in which case an injustice is done and a dangerous crook remains on th loose. You and Lenny apparently just want somebody locked up for each crime and don't care if they did it or not.

Y'all can defend this bad vote all you want and it hardly matters, because it's just one of MANY bad votes over the session by this committee with barely any good ones to counter them.

Anonymous said...

Lenny, you're a walking thinking error, and if you’re truthful in that you no longer prosecute, then it's prosecutors like you that we can live without. Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this House committee has been a disappointment, but some of the blame for the committee not voting out the Innocence Commission bill also probably belongs to some of the interested, professionally-staffed advocacy groups for not organizing a compelling list of witnesses for the committee to hear. Several of the committee members have little experience in criminal justice matters, so a well-organized committee hearing may have educated them better on the issue. In particular, they may have been impressed by hearing first hand from innocent people who have been exonerated and released. On the day when this bill was heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, there were three actual exonerees present who testified, plus Barry Scheck.

When it was heard in the House committee, the only person who testified FOR it was a staffer from The Justice Project named Edwin Colfax who is based in D.C.

What should have happened is that some of the groups interested in this bill should have brought in some of the many innocent people from Dallas who have been exonerated recently or some of the three exonerees who testified to the Senate committee, or another exoneree from Texas, there are certainly a bunch of innocent, exonerated people in Texas who could have been asked to testify.

If the committee members had heard testimony from actual innocent people, then maybe they would have been convinced of the importance of this bill.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

anon @ 6pm, you've hit upon the conundrum. None of the Dems claims to be against it. The chair says he's for it, all the D members said they're for it - I'm not sure anybody needed convincing, they all had told the bill sponsor they were convinced.

It's pretty common for hearings in the second chamber to not have the same level of dog and pony show at a hearing as in the early part of the session, partly because of time and partly because usually the interested parties must have worked out a sustainable compromise to get it out of the first one. If it were the case that Dems voted "no," I might think you were on to something. But since they all said yes and then the bill died for lack of attendance, I don't know how further convincing would help. Anyway, they have to show up to be convinced.

Really this is just a sorry spectacle - nobody disagrees with the bill but Democrats can't get their act together to pass it out of a committee they dominate. That's why I said in the update it's evidence the party isn't ready to govern.

Incidentally, a commentor on BOR correctly noted that a germane bill is on Monday's House calendar, another Ellis bill on increasing the compensation for wrongfully convicted people. Supporters should amend this bill onto that one on the House floor, and then the Chairman and Democratic committee members would have another opportunity to show their support for the bill from the back mike and by voting for it and lobbying their colleagues to do the same.

Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

Show Recommendation -
NBC Dateline Tuesday May 22 The Ada Hour Injustice of Wrongful Convictions Featuring Dennis Fritz Author of Journey Toward Justice

NBC Dateline will air on Tuesday May 22 The Ada Hour.
The Ada Hour will chronicle the repeated injustice of wrongful convictions.
In addition to John Grisham, District Attorney Bill Peterson, Barry Scheck and Robert Mayer the piece will feature Dennis Fritz the author of Journey Toward Justice.
Please feel free to post your comments about The Ada Hour on my blog Barbara's Journey Toward Justice

PersianCowboy said...

For some reason I think all the Anonymous comments are from the same person and that person happens to work at Pena office. As Grits said, "this committee has been basically awful - they generated zero bills to address innocence questions themselves, opposed most progressive bills that came before them, passed enhancements like they were going out of style, and their only big accoplishments this session will be the Senate bills they pass."

Democrats could really show that they can reform and lead the state again. But as I see the problem is not with the republicans but with the lame democrats. Why were those three Democrats absent???

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be fair, the question is really about TWO Ds, and I don't know which ones they were. I've been reminded that Paul Moreno is ill and just suffered a personal family tragedy that called him away from the House for the remainder of the session. I'd forgotten about that, and certainly hold no ill will toward the Dean of the House for those unhappy circumstances - as with Sen. Gallegos, these things happen. I don't think that changes the vote count or political dynamics much, though.

Anonymous said...

No, Paul Moreno was in town. He spoke on the House floor the following Monday. He was either in a different committee hearing or resting, bc as you say his health is not well.