In the meantime, though, several important innocence-related bills and other critical reform legislation is at risk of being sacrificed on the Voter ID altar, as House Democrats "chubb" away on every penny ante bill as a delaying tactic to pressure their colleagues to back off Voter ID. The following bills would have most likely already been voted on by now if not for the delay tactics:
- Eyewitness Identification: SB 117 by Ellis would require police departments to create written policies governing eyewitness identification procedures to prevent false identifications of the type that caused 80% of convictions among Texas' DNA exonerees. The Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said this should be the Legislature's highest priority for preventing false convictions.
- Recording Interrogations: SB 116 by Ellis would encourage (but not require, unfortunately) departments to record custodial interrogations.
- Habeas Writs and Junk Science: A compromise reached with prosecutors on SB 1976 by Whitmire would let appellants overcome the "subseqent writ" hurdle when they bring forward new claims involving new or discredited science that undermines their conviction.
- Post-conviction DNA Testing: SB 1864 by Ellis limiting judges' discretion to deny post-conviction DNA testing and requiring samples be run against the CODIS database to identify possible suspects.
The House thankfully already passed the exoneree compensation bill and legislation to require corroboration of jailhouse snitches, but these remaining bills represent the heart of innocence-related policy reforms proposed during the 81st session. If they were to die without a vote at this point, it would be a major blow and a tremendous missed opportunity.
Two other good bills I've been tracking on Grits are in the same boat - sitting on the calendar for days waiting for the chubbing to end:
- Asset Forfeiture Reform: SB 1529 by Whitmire would improve state oversight of seized assets and prevent solicitation of "waivers" for seized assets until a civil suit was filed in district court, aiming to address situations like in Tenaha where the practice allegedly amounted to officially backed highway robbery. This bill actually comes before Voter ID on the Major State calendar, but not by much and could still fall victim to the ticking clock.
- Local-option Needle Exchange: SB 188 by Deuell would authorize creation of local-option needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of disease and promote drug treatment among addicts in Texas' large cities and counties. Thirty six states have formally authorized needle exhange operations, and Texas is the only state in the union where they cannot legally operate in some form or fashion.
Voter ID was always going to be dicier in the House than the Senate because of the more or less even partisan split. With the Speaker not voting and Rep. Edmund Kuempel hospitalized recovering from a heart attack, the House is essentially divided 74-74 between Democrats and Republicans.
While in truth, IMO there's probably room for compromise on both sides on Voter ID, in the present environment I don't see that happening. More likely, one side either must give in or else one side's tactical maneuvering will prevail. Personally, I don't have a dog in that fight; I'm a lot more worried about the collateral damage it's causing.