Sunday, June 03, 2007

Peña: "I passed every bill that I wanted to pass"

House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Aaron Peña told the TV show Valley Newsline, "I passed every bill that I wanted to pass" in the 80th Texas Legislature thanks to his unwavering support for Speaker Tom Craddick.

For the record, that was precisely my point in this post about the fate of Sen. Ellis' Innocence Commission bill in Peña's committee - the things the Chairman wanted to pass this session, he passed. From this blog's perspective, more's the pity.

I like Aaron personally, but his tenure as a committee chair was was marked by pendelum swings from the poles of disappointing irrelevance to actively causing harm.

I nearly did a spit take with my coffee when Peña said of the Texas Youth Commission: "We fixed the system," a statement that to me seems arrogantly premature. Asked the same question, I'd say the agency is in turmoil, driven by PR instead of public policy goals with no clear direction and an uncertain future, with the most important proposed TYC reforms being studied rather than implemented.

Funny how the sausage making process looks (and sounds) a lot prettier from the distant view of the home district.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed. Pena waived his magic wand and fixed TYC with one fell stroke. The man is a god. Now that the TYC matter is behind us, perhaps we can get Pena to focus his incredible healing talents on Bexar Co Adult Probation. While he's there, it might be a good idea if he drops by Fitgerald's toxic dump of a UA lab and submit a sample. His reality contact seems a bit suspect.

Perry Dorrell, aka PDiddie said...

"The President has kept the promises he intended to keep."

-- George Stephanopoulis

Anonymous said...

"We fixed the system." Are you kidding me? He didn't fix a damn thing! Pena is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Your comments indicated a mean spirtedness that is unbecoming this site. You have to admit that the TYC is no longer in the state it once was. It also looks like sour-grapes to complain about the successes of those that were working within the system. I am afraid liberals never seem to be satisfied with the world. It is probably because deep down they are unhappy with themselves.

Anonymous said...

A large number of people did their best to "fix" a broken system at TYC. "We" fixed a system that was once broken is in my opinion a fair statement by the representative. I will not diminish the good work done this past session as you seem to imply.

Anonymous said...

Keep burying your heads in the sand, conservative commentators, and start owing up to your party's record of failed policies and oversight negligence. We "liberals" will continue to speak the truth whether your palate finds it tasteful or not. It's so interesting how you boys are so quick to attach labels to somehow discredit one's remarks when the truth hurts your party's reputation. If you need someone to always agree with your position, then perhaps you should turn off your computer and spend your time watching Fox news.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hello 11:42 and 11:51. There's an upcoming TYC sunset review that will prove or disprove my comment about unfinished business at TYC, so we can continue this discussion over the coming months. The system was changed, yes, and SB 103, in particular, has some significant reforms. But nobody can say an agency with 48% employee turnover BEFORE the scandal was "fixed" by what was done. Changing EDs, closing a couple of units, and sending a few kids home won't solve everything that ails TYC. The main backers of SB 103 knew they weren't done because they included so many study provisions for the biggest reforms. I hope no legislators left the '07 thinking this problem will go away now. It won't.

Also, it's not "liberal" to say this committee was a disappointment - it's not for nothing Paul Burka labeled them "talent poor." Indeed, someone from the prosecutors association told me Criminal Jurisprudence had the "most dysfunctional committee makeup" they had ever seen.

Maybe you think it's mean-spirited to criticize politicians for their legislative record - as far as I'm concerned I'm just calling balls and strikes. This committee passed a lot of bad bills and hardly any good ones of their own. I could provide examples all day.

Anonymous said...

"You have to admit that the TYC is no longer in the state it once was." Well the fact is, it's become more dangerous inside the fence as evidenced by our escalating incident rates and staff shortages. No doubt the offenders are driving the agency right now. Staff aren't intervening any more. So, do you think that's a good change?

Actually, we haven't seen the results of SB103 and won't for a few years. Now once Perry signs it, and we open the gate and release over 1000 from our custody or supervision, we'll see what impact that'll have on the communities. I don't think the communities are ready, but we shall see. I know a lot of judges and prosecutors are pissed off, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grits, anon 12:25 and 12:04'

THANK YOU for setting the record straight to ANONS 11:42 1nd 11:51. They obviously DO NOT work for TYC.
Grits, I hope you continue to express your thoughts just like you always have. The conservatives need to find another blogspot. They are obviously clueless!

Anonymous said...

The ignorance of Pena's statement, "We fixed the system," is reflected in the fact that it takes years to change the culture of an organization with the number of systemic problems that Grits so aptly points out. Pena hasn't even scratched the surface yet.

Anonymous said...

Fixed the system? The Texas Youth Commission was fast on their feet, to implement a new policy that prevents the news media and public from seeing any details of allegations of staff sexual and physical abuse of the youths.

That's how the Republicans take care of things.

Anonymous said...

What scares me the most about the whole TYC mess is that the chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee actually believes that he has fixed the system! Mission Accomplished! according to Pena. God help us! Here we go again.

The Princess of Pharr, Pharr Away said...

Pena has proven that he is no different nor any better than Kino. Pena is just a little bit more careful than Kino about leaving his fingerprints behind.

I was heartbroken when Pena sabotaged the Innocence Commission, and then I became so hopeful when Pena said that he might step down. I broke down crying when I heard Pena changed his mind and would run again.

Won't ANYONE stand up for me and the people our Valley politicians persistently fail to represent?

Anonymous said...

I think many of you project an absolute where none was intended. I think that it is reasonable to say that the legislature "fixed" a broken system. Acceptable and perfect which many of you project are not the same thing. I agree that we should always strive for the perfect but your projections here today reveal more about yourselves than than anything else.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anonymous @ 6:05, Rep. Peña is the one who projected the unjustified "absolute," whatever was intended. But in any event it's just not "reasonable" to call the TYC situation "fixed." On that we must agree to disagree, and I hope other legislators aren't telling their constituents that. It's simply not true. At most it has been exposed, and a discussion has begun about what to do.

As for the rest of your argument, yes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. That's not where my criticisms are coming from. Telling constituents about TYC, "We fixed it, don't think about that anymore" doesn't help the situtation, it just makes it harder to pursue more significant changes even though they're definitely still needed. best,

whitsfoe said...

You're right there Henson, it's pretty damn presumptious to think TYC is "fixed." Pena is an old school kinda guy, kinda like his Senate counterpart "Elmer Fudd." I'd like to see new members, and voting is what it takes... so lets get out the word and elect the responsible, and Pena, you aint shit to us... now go "flush" that...

See you later

Disgusted said...

TYC is far from fixed. The sad thing is that those that are in the lege (and the ones hired with no juvenile on hands experience to study and write policy) could honestly feel that it is.

It is great to have representatives from family, from ex TYC youth in advocacy roles. But what about the front line representation and voice.

Those that sit smugly and agree with Pena obviously are NOT working on the front line everyday. With youth that look at the staff on campus and flat tell you that they are going to do and act how they want - period. And that no one is going to do a damn thing about it - because "we'll get out of here anyway." Or "We can have your job with one phone call."

Yeah - it's really fixed. Lets just make a state mandate that if you are under 18 you can commit all the crime you want and go home to write 100 times. I won't knock little old ladies in the head, commit armed robbery, rape 10 year olds, or deal drugs at the elementary school." Yeah - that should do it. Just sign me disgusted.

"Chuy" said...

FIXED, FIXED, we do not have any policies in place, no treatment plan, turnover through the roof, and open door policy for youth, FIXED??????

You must be a staffer for Pena because you don't have a clue what TYC is about.

Change is good but you must have a plan and a good one, your dealing with kids and staffs lives. After Sunset we will see where this agency is but all that has taken place so far is grandstanding and headline grabbing.

I still believe the purpose to blow everything up was to cover up who in Austin knew about the West Texas Sex Scandal. By drawing attention and making headlines about how screwed up TYC is you distract the MSM from those who should have been held accounatble.

Anonymous said...

Hate burns in the hearts of men.

Anonymous said...

"Hate burns in the hearts of men."

Is this a reference to the guy linking toilet sounds to the blog from his district? I think that's the most revealing part of this whole affair.

Anonymous said...

Old as Moses: Why does anyone think that blaming a particular political party serves any purpose? I consider myself conservative but that doesn't mean that I pull one handle when I vote. TYC happened over 20-25 years and I KNOW both parties are responsible for what has been going on for at least that long. So, let's look at the problems and contribute sound advice, not angry retoric, on what needs to be done. By the way, why is the House and Senate (both democrat, liberal & republican) go home? Do they really think they solved anything. The below mentioned work all year long for peanuts, so why not our Lege?
The whole Criminal Justice system: TYC, TDC, ADULT PROBATION (CSCD's) and JUVENILE PROBATION are out of control. When will we as citizens of this state say enough is enough and force change by going to the polls and electing the best qualified, not just our party candidate?

Dr. Papschmear said...

What the lege did with/to TYC, as far as I can see, starts with an "F" and ends with an "-ed", and it ain't fixed! All the provisions of SB103 that are currently being "studied" rather than implemented are a testimony to the fact that those appointed to "fix" TYC are absolutely clueless about anything remotely related to juvenile corrections. But, not to worry. All you need is an endorsement from the lege and/or the governor and you can fix anything.

I don't understand the media and its role in this process either. In the past weeks you couldn't pick up a major newspaper and not read about the "scandal". Now, there's little or nothing being said. But, I have recently learned that the world hot dog eating record has been broken. I guess the fact that hundreds of good, faithful TYC employees who will soon be out of work doesn't have the potential to sell papers like a good ol' West Texas sex scandal. Or maybe we did get "fixed" and just haven't realized yet.

Grits is right, the problem is far from solved, far from over and its impact is going to be felt for a good, long time. Hell, several of the main players in the West Texas coverup are still employed there, while tenured, experienced juvenile justice professionals throughout the agency have been dismissed simply for supporting the Resocialization program. It boggles the mind!

Just wondering said...

Grits,
I just watched Representative Pena on the program that you linked and the way I understand his statement he was referring to passing out all HIS legislation and not that of others. I may not understand the process well but I think each legislator is responsible for their own legislation. I am just wondering why all the attacks against this one representative. When Senator Hinojosa was chairman of the same committee was he held responsible when another representatives legislation was not brought up for a vote? Aren't hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of legislation killed every session? It seems the Innocence Commission bill was important to you and many others but I see an unusual amount of attacks over this one item. Why don't we look at all the really ugly bills that did not see the light of day? I will await your analysis of what passed but don't forget there are also hundreds that didn't pass that would be pretty bad news for liberals.

Just wondering said...

I just found the blog that Representative Pena put the toilet sounds to. I think I would have put something worse if someone had spoken of me in the way they speak of him.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@justwondering: Each legislator is responsible for their own legislation, surely, but Pena is responsible for his committee, where it's also true he passed everything he cared to.

Much bad legislation died, surely, but rarely in this committee, which passed numerous bad bills that Keel and Hinojosa had stopped for years - e.g., expanding wiretapping and making search warrant affidavits secret. This year Calendars and Senate Criminal Justice were much more common burial grounds for bad criminal justice bills. I covered this committee week in and week out on the blog, and this was a recurring theme. The Innocence Commission is just one bill, but the committee's overall record was generally poor. As I've written previously:

"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."

Finally, perhaps you would say worse about the Edinburg News, but you're not their elected state representative. Anyway, IMO when you make childish moves like that, you don't later get to complain about others' pettiness of motive. best,

YD's said...

Why doesn't grits blame the Reps. that didn't vote for the innocence commission or even show up for the vote? The representatives that didn't show up to work(that the people demand of them) rather than blame a person that voted for the innocence commission? The hate for this man who has given his life to the Dem. Party is pittiful and disgusting. Stop whinning cause the rep. voted for Craddick to get help for his dist. which is the poorest dist. in the nation. The Dem. Party forgot US down here and he did what any SMART politician would do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Where does the word "hate" come from? Nobody is using that word but Peña's anonymous defenders.

The bill sponsors, House and Senate, blame the Chairman for the Innocence Commission bill's death, and after examining and debating the issue indepth I'm convinced Senfronia Thompson is correct that the bill was intentionally brought up a) way too late and b) when members weren't there. That was the chairman's choice, and he made different choices ramrodding through Jessica's Law, wiretapping expansion and allowing admission of questionable evidence in court.

Pena's support for the Democratic Party doesn't mean any more to me than does Craddick's fealty to Republicans - I'm not one who blames him for being a Craddick D. My criticisms are of Peñas actual criminal justice policies as represented by his votes and his priorities as committe chair. Those aren't partisan concerns at all - I'd say the same things, pro and con, if he were a Republican, without a doubt. best,

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the comments that what happened to TYC is the responsibility of both parties. TYC's current problems did not begin 20-25 years ago. The real problems began when George Bush took office and removed Ron Jackson as Executive Director for political reasons. The pro-juvenile incarceration administrative policies of the Bush/Perry administrations are responsible for the condition of TYC's facilities. If it had not been for the extremely progressive ideas of Dr. Reyes and other central office staff and the highly committed staff in the field this agency would have crumbled under this burden 6-7 years ago. I have always voted conservatively but after this session, observing the Republican political machinery divert attention from the real problems in TYC, my votes will much more easily swing to the left.

Anonymous said...

Ron Jackson retired under the administration of Anne Richards, not Bush.

concerned said...

Grits,

You should view the website because they have real hate for the Rep. And if you paid attention to politics in his district you would learn that the people that run that site have attacked the Rep from before he was ever sworn in in 2003. It is the "politics of destruction" that they incorporate into their everday lives that must be filled with real hate towards the Rep. I have read your site since before this session and I know that "hate" is not a word associated with your criticisms but at least don't give credence to the lowly actions of a lowly blog like the one that attacks a Rep just for the sake of attacking and not finding solutions. If I were you I would be more concerned about the possibility Rep Pena not win re-election because the guy that is coming after that position is well known to be a leech living off of local city agencies. Especially the one that I live in. (p.s. I don't live in Rep Pena's district)

Concerned Again said...

Grits,

One more thing. If you know the Rep you would know that he would never use the word "hate" in his vocabulary. He lives in a world of finding forgiveness even to those that attack him. After his son passed I asked him how he felt about the person responsible for the death and he talked about working to find peace and not of anger and hate. I think that speaks volumes about his character. I think that is one of the reasons I find it hard to believe that he would kill a bill of any kind as retribution towards anyone. Like I said if you know the man you know he doesn't operate in that way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I find it hard to believe that he would kill a bill of any kind as retribution"

There are a thousand reasons why he might kill the bill besides "retribution," and I cannot know the chairman's motive. I can only observe his actions and his votes. Why he stalled then killed the bill I cannot say, but stall it then kill it he did. If he wanted it to pass, without question he had every opportunity to make it happen.

I also cannot say why the Dem-dominated committee fetishistically boosted criminal pentalties, increased secrecy, expanded wiretapping authority or backed new laws that make it MORE likely innocent people are convicted. Their motives remain a mystery to me and I do not suppose to know them. But I watched their work closely week to week, and it made me embarrassed at how bad they were (with the exception of Terri Hodge and Robert Talton, oddly, who at least knew the issues).

Burka's assessment of their work on HB 8 can be applied to the entire session. I'm not saying these things to oppose Pena's campaign - maybe he traded off these interests for all the South Texas pork that he's bragging about (my working theory), in which case his constitutents might well think it worth the bargain. For my part, from the perspective of what's best for the criminal justice system, it was destructive to use the committee for those ends while ignoring incarcerated innocents and worsening the state's overincarceration crisis.

I'm not saying that to hurt Aaron or because he's not a nice guy. I'm saying it because it's my honest opinion based on everything I've seen. And because I like Aaron personally, it saddens me all the more.

Anonymous said...

Blame the people who didn't vote or even show up to the innocence commission vote. Lets have a discussion on why they failed their constituents.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've been critical of the entire committee, frankly, but in this instance Rep. Thompson had the votes there and the chair passed up opportunities to vote out the bill until the end of the meeting when people had to leave for other last-minute committee votes.

What's more, this bill shouldn't have waited until the last possible day. When the wiretapping bill came over from the Senate, rules were suspended so it could be voted out as quickly as possible, in a matter of days instead of weeks. Jessica's Law was whipped through the committee process with no vetting at all. That's what happened to bills in Criminal Jurisprudence the chair wanted to pass, and with all respect it was painfully obvious this wasn't one of them.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but in this case the chair deserves his share.

Anonymous said...

What they need to do is get off there ass and fix the system that they so call needs fixing. Inmates are dieing in the prison system why because the president and the state reps. dont do nothing.
Texas prison dont have any kind of fans to keep them cooled off during this hot wheather, while it gets hot and the inmates start getting mad. The Texas prison treat the inmates like there are not humane because that what one of the personal said when i told them if they sell fans to the inmates. And this Texas prison was Dominguez Unit. And then they say why we are paying our taxes. So we can give them there pay check. This is a bunch of bull crap.