Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crunch time: Bills dying right and left with little fanfare

If you're supporting a House bill this session that was assigned to the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee but has not yet received a hearing, chances are it's already dead. As sine die looms ever closer, this is the first week that committee will cease hearing House bills. Every bill on its agenda this afternoon has come over from the Senate. (Other committees are still hearing bills for the originating chamber, though probably not for much longer.)

I wasn't a big fan of Chairman Pete Gallego's decision to set up half a dozen subcommittees where most bills assigned to Criminal Jurisprudence received their hearings, but in retrospect that was a wise move that enabled them to have hearings on a remarkable number of bills in a relatively short span of time.

Bills that have already received a hearing in Criminal Jurisprudence (or one of its subcomittees) could still possibly move through the process in time to pass this session, but those bills still waiting for a first hearing are almost certainly goners, just because of the calendar. OTOH, bills being heard from the other chamber have an excellent (though certainly not guaranteed) chance of passage.

Among senate bills that will be heard in House Criminal Jurisprudence today:

SB 257 by Estes banning sale of salvia divinorum to minors. I've written before why this appears to be a solution looking for a problem.

SB 359 by Patrick enhancing penalties for thefts, burglaries, robberies or assaults committed during a period of time and with a locale designated as a disaster area by the President, the Governor, or "any other government official under state or federal law." This seems a bit too broad and ham-handed to me. After the experience with Hurricane Katrina, it strikes me that some looting in the aftermath of disasters may be a function of straight up survival needs. I can see penalizing someone more if, taking advantage of a disaster, they decide to go steal TVs, cars, or other goods in an opportunistic fashion. But the bill doesn't have any exception, for example, for those who steal food out of desperation in the wake of a chaotic disaster. That's of particular concern in instances like in New Orleans where it took way too long for government help to arrive. This legislation doesn't quite seem ready for prime time.

SB 625 by Wentworth would revamp the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, renaming it the Texas Indigent Defense Council, and impose new rules on counties pursuing public defender programs, particularly those which choose to contract services to a nonprofit. I can't readily tell what the implications of this bill might be for existing PD programs, so I'd encourage readers with more specific knowledge of the topic to read the bill and let us know in the comments what you think of it. (I put in a call to Sen. Wentworth's office to clarify what exactly the bill aims to accomplish and will update when I find out more.) UPDATE: I'm informed this bill grew out of two resolutions from the Texas Judicial Council, see here and here (pdf files) for more background.

SB 828 by Whitmire is an incrementalist anti-corruption bill that would allow tallying up multiple transactions in abuse of official capacity cases in order to get to a higher penalty range "if separate transactions that violate [the statute] are conducted pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct."

SB 1091 by Senators Ellis and Duncan would establish a "capital writs committee" to assist indigent death row residents in filing state habeas writs. The committee will both have staff attorneys and also farm out cases to a list it will develop of qualified habeas attorneys. The bill also would reimburse counties for similar services when the capital writs committee has a conflict of interest or otherwise is not in a position to take on the client. The committee would be disallowed under the proposed bill language from working on federal habeas appeals.


Anonymous said...

Looks like the juvenile probation gun bill is passed committee.

Anonymous said...

Why do we put up with this BS from our elected officials? They pick and choose their favorites when they have little or nothing to do with what needs to be changed for the state. Time to refresh the seats in our state lege, and get people in there that actually want to govern.

Anonymous said...

The history of Liberty is a history
of the limitations of governmental power
not the increase of it."
Woodrow Wilson

"If a society is to remain free,
its government must be controlled."
Ayn Rand

Anonymous said...

The juvenile probation gun bill is local control. I can't see where the opposition would come from..

Anonymous said...

9:27 Don't think there is much opposition! Glad it is moving forward and not dead in committee.