Sen. Seliger's bill would make it a third degree felony to steal any number of cattle, horses, or exotic fowl, regardless of their value
CORRECTION (see below): My apologies for misreading the bill to increase penalties for goats, sheep and swine to a state jail felony when that was already the case. This penalty hike is only for cattle, horses, or exotic fowl and livestock, stealing one of which, if the bill passes, would be a third degree felony no matter what its value.
On the Senate floor, Seliger defended the bill as deterrence against cattle rustlers
Clearly SB 1163 will categorize more petty thefts as felonies which means
According to the bill's criminal justice impact statement, "During fiscal year 2008, five offenders were admitted to prison and 14 offenders were placed on felony probation for theft of livestock." But a state jail felony would mean only 2 years or less for those five imprisoned individuals, while a third degree felony involves a 2-10 year sentence.
Seliger and Kolkhorst are actually among my favorite legislators at the capitol so this isn't intended to criticize them. (The same fiscal critique can be made of nearly every "enhancement" bill.) Instead my aim is to focus attention on an ongoing institutional folly of the first magnitude: The idea that every problem can be solved through more incarceration and it costs no money to do so.
As long as I've been around the Texas Legislature, they've allowed (or arguably, encouraged) LBB to tell them official lies ("no significant fiscal implication") in their fiscal notes about how much it costs to incarcerate people. And since nobody wants a fiscal note on their own "enhancement" bill, legislators all nod and smile and go along with it.
Texas already has 2,324 separate felonies on the books, including eleven involving oysters. I wonder how many felonies this will make involving goats?
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Well, everybody sometimes makes embarrassing mistakes and I suppose yesterday was my day - probably one of many but two readers caught this one in the comment section. I misread this bill not once, but twice, mistakenly thinking it increased the penalty for goat theft when (somewhat astonishingly) that is already a state jail felony. Only theft of cattle, horses, and exotic livestock would be affected by the bill. Consider this a humble mea culpa. It was a careless, unintentional error.
Even so, it's utterly ridiculous that theft of a $35 goat would get you a felony record (just like it's absurd that it's a state jail felony to graffiti a school). As noted in the bill's criminal justice impact statement, only five people per year are sent to prison for livestock theft, but according to the cattle raisers association, last year "there were 970 cases of cattle thefts in Texas and Oklahoma, three times the number from the previous year." So it's not like they're catching a large enough percentage of cattle rustlers for the increased penalties to make a difference.
It costs $18,000 per year to incarcerate somebody in Texas prisons. So what if Texas reduced the penalty for livestock theft to the same value-based assessment we use for everything else and spent the money saved to support a single investigator at the Texas Rangers focused on livestock theft rings? I'll guarantee that would do more to actually solve the problem and in the long run it'd be cheaper, smarter and more effective.