Thursday, April 16, 2009

Roundup: From the Lege to the courthouse to the jailhouse

Here are a few items that deserve Grits readers attention even if I don't have time to devote a full blog post to each topic:

Slow boating
Particularly on the House side, bills are moving more slowly in the 81st Texas Legislature than at any time in recent memory, raising the possibility that a great deal of legislation - good and bad - may just die for lack of time. See the Houston Chronicle's discussion: "Scorecard in Austin: 92 days of work, one bill." (April 15)

Big Brother rising
One critical exception to the slow pace has been the Senate's approval of an array of new police powers, cataloged by Jay Root at AP in his piece, "Expanded police powers under consideration" (April 15), including sobriety checkpoints, authorizing electronic license plate readers, and expanding the offense of "failure to identify." "We get into some real civil liberty concerns when we're allowing that broad power under detainment only," said Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. "I think we're opening ourselves up to some unforeseen consequences."

Backing boost for guard pay
The Beaumont Enterprise this week devoted a feature story and a staff editorial to supporting a 20% raise for Texas prison guards. According to one line officer quoted, "What I'm seeing is that the correctional system is going to collapse if we don't get that 20 percent - not 5, not 10, maybe 15 percent ... We are the only line of defense between the criminals and the public."

Banning native sage
The Senate passed legislation to ban sale of salvia divinorum, a type of sage native to Texas and commonly used among gardeners, to minors in Texas, the Austin Statesman reports. The companion bill, however, has been sitting stagnant in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee since early March with seemingly little momentum after its sponsor presented a video created as a spoof as part of his argumentation.

Debating bail and appointed counsel
Mark Bennett has a great post on the law and ethics surrounding judges refusing to appoint someone an attorney because they made bail, responding to comments by the Texas Fair Defense Project's Andrea Marsh that the fiery Bennett was letting judges off the hook for violating the law.

Feds want updgrades to Dallas jail health
The feds say the Dallas jail has made "remarkable" improvement in inmate health care but still needs to install an infirmary at the Lew Sterret jail that will cost taxpayers $50 million. Reported the Dallas News ("Infirmary remains issue for Dallas County jails in latest report, April 16):

Besides the lack of infirmary care, other nagging issues included a slow response to sick calls, failure to track seriously ill inmates and lack of proper maintenance, which has contributed to the fire safety problems, according to the report.

The inspectors looked at 27 sick call requests, for example, and found that 12 patients weren't seen at all.

It's still taking two to three days for inmates to receive medications, although that's an improvement over the four-day average delay found during the previous inspection.

During the last inspection, the inspectors pointed out high numbers of inmates being sent to Parkland's emergency room. That number, however, has fallen by 45 percent, indicating "better on-site services," the report said.

'Sorry' not nearly enough
Confessed kidnapper Lernondo Simmons, while sitting in jail in Dallas on new charges, apologized for committing a 1992 rape that was blamed on Patrick Waller, an innocent man later cleared through DNA evidence. Simmons, the real rapist, would probably be in prison today if they'd pursued Waller's innocence claims more vigorously. Simmons is now awaiting trial for another violent crime.

Prosecutors' delay in pursuing innocence claims were what allowed Simmons to escape justice for the 1992 offense. Reports the Dallas News: "Had Waller, now 39, been granted post-conviction DNA testing when he first asked (before Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins took office in 2007), the information could have been used to deny parole to Simmons and [his accomplice Byron] Bell. Simmons was paroled in 2004 for assault of a public servant; Bell, whose whereabouts are unknown, was paroled a few years later on a burglary conviction."


gravyrug said...

A friend of mine was in Dawson (a private prison) for a while, and told us that medical care pretty much consisted of dispensing ibuprofen and sinus meds for almost all complaints, even obvious infections. Who's calling for better treatment for those in the private prisons?

Texas Lawyer said...

Don't get me wrong, the whole Salvia business is ridiculous. But I'm not so sure about your comments that Salvia *divinorum* is native to Texas and widely used by gardeners. According to wikipedia, divinorum is native to Oaxaca, Mexico.

There are lots of other Salvias native to Texas and used in gardening, but I don't think divinorum fits in either category.

Anonymous said...

I guess all of those sage distributors will just move on to something harder: "Hey man, I got some first rate garlic clove here.. uncut.. no, no, no, don;t show the money in public are you wanted to get busted?"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

My source that salvia divinorum grows native in Texas, FWIW, was actually Sen. Estes when he first laid out his bill to ban it in 2007. He said at the hearing that the plant grew wild in some regions of the state, though it certainly may have originated in Oaxaca. I'd never heard of the stuff before he and Doc Anderson began promoting a ban.