Chair: Jim McReynoldsCriminal Jurisprudence:
Vice Chair: Jerry Madden
Solomon Ortiz, Jr.
Chair: Pete GallegoPublic Safety:
Vice Chair: Wayne Christian
Chair: Tommy MerrittSome initial thoughts, in no particular order:
Vice Chair: Stephen Frost
First, each of these committees has new chairs. On Corrections the chairmanship flipped parties, though that may make less of a difference policy-wise than the new chairs on the other two panels.
Corrections looks like it will be a particularly reform-minded committee, as it's been in each of the last couple of sessions. (OTOH, they basically have to be - the prisons are stuffed full of mostly parole-eligible, nonviolent offenders and the committee must either embrace diversion programs or spend billions to build new prisons.) I'm sorry to see Jerry Madden lost his chairmanship, but he and Jim McReynolds worked closely together last session and the new chair was on board with most of the work Madden was doing there. Democrats dominate the committee by a 7-4 margin.
I'm excited to see Pete Gallego named chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, since that's where a lot of the innocence-related legislation went (and died) during the 80th Legislature. Last time the committee was dominated by Democrats (as it is this go-round) but became a killing field for reform bills while passing a slew of criminal penalty increases (so-called "enhancements"). This session, the budget crunch makes passing ever more lengthy sentences a less politically feasible approach. Allen Fletcher on that committee is the only former police officer currently serving in the House.
On Public Safety (which last session was the "Law Enforcement" Committee), Tommy Merritt, a Longview Republican, replaces Joe Driver as chair. Merritt wasn't on any criminal justice-related committees last session so I don't have a good sense of his positions on the hot-button law enforcement topics of the day, but my sense from his floor votes is that he's a bit more libertarian than Driver, who tended to reflexively side with prosecutors and police.
A big loss on the criminal justice front was Sylvester Turner's (perhaps predictable) departure from the Appropriations Committee, where he played an incredibly pivotal role last session in funding diversion programs and opposing new prison construction. There are quite a few good people on Appropriations, though, who conceivably could pick up the ball in that area. We'll know more when Chairman Jim Pitts names the membership on that panel's Criminal Justice Subcommittee, which is where most of the heavy lifting will happen.
With Lois Kolkhorst chairing Public Health after Diane Delisi's retirement, I'm willing to bet needle exchange legislation will have a lot easier time making it through that committee (or at least getting a vote). The full House last session supported a pilot program in a floor amendment so if a bill can make it out of committee, it's likely to pass.
Also, with the issues swirling around reconstructing UTMB-Galveston, it's perhaps telling that Galveston's Craig Eiland is Speaker Pro-Tempore and also will serve on Appropriations. The UT-System is suggesting moving the bulk of the medical facilities off the island except for the state prison hospital located there, but Eiland will likely have a lot to say about those decisions. The full impact of Hurricane Ike on Texas' prison medical services has yet to be fully documented, but from what I hear the Department of Criminal Justice is still reeling from the disruption of medical services.
Committee assignments are arriving incredibly late this year. By this time last session all of these committees had already begun meeting. So while the new chairs mean there could be significant staff turnover and they'll probably need another week to take care of organizational concerns, after that I'd expect things to kick into gear pretty quickly.
MORE: See additional commentary on committee appointments from Burnt Orange Report and Postcards from the Lege. Kuff rounds up the blogospheric reactions.