Sen. Jackson's latest oyster enhancement passed out of committee. Trey Martinez-Fischer (and many others) want to boost penalties for owners of dogs who attack children. Meanwhile, Mike Ward reports that computer hacking into government systems may become a felony, even if no data is taken, if a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger that just passed the Senate becomes law.
Dave Montgomery at the Fort Worth Star Telegram has a story about a bill to make theft of livestock a third degree felony no matter how small the animal's value; it passed the Senate on a 29-2 vote. The bill will be another good test case to measure whether increasing criminal penalties deters crime, as evidenced by this exchange on the Senate floor:
Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, questioned whether making a third-degree felony was too much.
“Up to 10 years in prison for one cow?” he asked.
“This will deter rustling,” Seliger said.
The Senate agreed, voting 29-2 for final passage of the measure.
Whether rustling is deterred will be a measurable outcome, so if that turns out not to be the case, I hope Sen. Seliger will step forward a couple of sessions down the line to roll that penalty back. The described boost in the volume of rustling (a trebling in one year, supposedly, to 970 cases of cattle theft) could easily be attributable to the existence of just one or two active theft rings. This is another instance where more vigorous enforcement of laws currently on the books would have more impact that making the laws tuffer.
Indeed, frequently the assumed "deterrence" hoped for by backers of higher penalties simply doesn't pan out in the real world. E.g., last session the Lege boosted penalties for theft of any amount of scrap metal to a felony, only to see the offense rate skyrocket after the new laws were enacted because of rising copper and metal prices. The predictable legislative response: Expand the list of items that trigger an automatic felony charge.
In reality, the penalty class assigned to scrap metal theft didn't have much to do at all with the frequency of the violation, and I'll bet the same is true of cattle rustling.The House is only now beginning its biennial penalty-hike spree in earnest. On Monday's House calendar, for example, HB 671 by Darby would boost penalties for theft by one category (or "enhance" it, to use the Orwellian capitol euphemism) if the victim is a nonprofit organization. Would this have prevented Bernie Madoff, et. al., from defrauding foundations or other nonprofits? It seems doubtful - this bill is designed to make a statement, not solve a problem.
Another bill on Monday's House calendar, HB 1813 by Vo, would boost penalties for forensic technicians for tampering with government records, based largely on one recent case with no real precedent or reason to believe the problem is widespread. I'm glad if legislators want to address crime lab flaws, but there are a lot more pressing concerns than this.
And that's just a taste of the dozens of bills increasng criminal penalties still moving through various committees in both chambers. I've not been tracking so-called "enhancement" bills this session as closely as in the past, but in almost every instance there are other ways to pursue the same policy goals by using the laws currently on the books, as well as approaches that don't involve the justice system.