Texas can’t arrest its way out of a recession, but many policymakers act as if we could. During the 81st legislative session, the Senate passed legislation creating a criminal penalty for establishments that serve food with transfats, with only seven Senators deciding they couldn’t stomach this legislation. A loophole in the bill exempted “fried yeast,” i.e., donuts. Though the measure died in the House, the Legislature still created 40 new offenses and dozens of penalty enhancements.What's more, he writes:
with so many sweeping and often ambiguous criminal laws, including those that are created every week by regulatory agencies without the approval of elected offi cials, it is impossible for any person or business to regularly stay abreast of the line between what is legal and what is criminal. Moreover, the deluge of overly broad and vague criminal laws gives police and prosecutors virtually untrammeled authority to arrest and indict anyone. In Texas, a person can be arrested for any crime — even a Class C misdemeanor — other than speeding or an open container of alcohol.One of his recommendations harks back to a regular Grits beef about what costs are (or more accurately, are not) assigned to penalty hikes and new crimes in the legislative budget process. Levin suggests the Legislative Budget Board "improve fiscal notes so that they state the full cost of the bill, including prosecutorial and judicial expenditures and the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants," noting that "the fiscal note is often zero for many enhancement bills when in fact there are likely to be costs." Marc's being generous. Actually the fiscal note is nearly always zero for so-called "enhancement" bills, as though arresting, adjudicating and incarcerating people for more and more crimes costs nothing at all.
I consider LBB's failure to accurately assign costs to such bills a major factor in why Texas' incarceration boom so greatly surpassed the state's ability to pick up the tab, necessitating the 2007 probation reforms: Lawmakers for years have pretended that each incremental increase in incarceration was free. However that was nothing but a self serving lie - one the state can't afford to indulge any longer.
I should mention that Levin also has a short video up on YouTube titled "Getting More for Less in Juvenile Justice":
Regular readers will recall the conservative writer recently published this public policy report (pdf) by the same name. Marc just sent me a hardcopy in the mail, which I appreciate since the document is a tad lengthy to read online.