House crimjust committee assignments boring but significant
First, I should belatedly mention that Texas House committee chairs on criminal justice yielded no surprises but set the stage for a session where reform bills will have a serious chance of passage in the lower chamber. Congratulations to Jerry Madden, who resumes his former leadership role as Chair of Corrections, Pete Gallego, who remains Chairman of Criminal Jurisprudence (though presiding over a committee with a lot of new faces), and Sid Miller, who replaces Joe Driver as head of what's now the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Madden has been central to Texas' recent probation reforms and his appointment by the Speaker appears to endorse his approach, which has received national acclaim. Further, Todd Hunter, who chairs the Calendars Committee (which decides what legislation will be voted on, when, on the House floor), will also sit on Corrections, signaling that bills coming out of that committee have an excellent chance of getting a House floor vote. Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Pete Gallego is sponsor of a slew of innocence legislation - requiring eyewitness ID procedures at police departments, recording interrogations, writ reform - and this appointment puts him in a good position to get those bills out of committee. Pretty much good news all around, or at least, as my father likes to say, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Brain science and the law
Check out the Law and Bioscience Daily Digest, which summarizes legal opinions "in which cognitive neuroscience or behavioral genetics evidence has been introduced."
The blog Texas Prison Bidness has several posts up that may interest Grits readers, as does The Back Gate.
The Jail that Ate Tyler
Officials in my home county really, REALLY want an expanded jail. They're about to put jail expansion on the ballot in Smith County for the fourth time since 2006, and judging from news coverage the voters still don't want it. During the last, failed plebiscite, a local PAC opposing the jail ran radio ads featuring snippets from Lorrie Morgan's country classic, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" The chorus to that song rings in my head upon reading this news. There's a lot more local officials could do to reduce the jail population, recited many times on this blog and by Judge Cynthia Kent (now retired) who helped lead the charge opposing the last three jail-bond proposals. If they'd tried those other strategies and failed, voters would probably support jail expansion. But when Build! Build! Build! is the only option presented, after it's been rejected over and over, one suspects voters may start to seriously resent it.
Tax my online purchases, please
Off topic, but I'm unusually vexed by Amazon.com's decision to pull its physical plant out of Texas to avoid charging sales tax on purchases by Texas residents. I'm a bit of an agoraphobe, despise malls and shopping centers, and enjoy the convenience of online shopping, including at Amazon. But I don't want that convenience to then gut the state's tax base, and I don't mind paying consumption taxes on online purchases, given that Texas has no income tax and the sales tax is our biggest source of revenue. I like that online shopping is cheap, but to the extent that means the state must close neighborhood schools, eliminate financial aid for college, etc., because online sales aren't taxed like those on Main Street, that makes me want to check my use. Amazon owes the state $269 million, or about 1% of Texas current budget shortfall. Apparently under Texas law they can avoid applying the tax by moving their physical plant out of state, but that doesn't seem right to me. To be fair to local retailers, online purchasers should pay the applicable sales tax in whatever jurisdiction they're making the purchase. If Amazon can recommend stuff to me based on purchase patterns from 7 years ago, they can take my address from the credit card form and figure out how much tax to apply.
Roundup of recent Grits posts you might have missed
Finally, since not everybody checks in at Grits daily, while I'm focused elsewhere on stuff for which people are actually paying me, I thought I'd round up some notable Grits' posts published since the beginning of the year covering subjects or angles on stories you probably haven't seen elsewhere:
- 'Six Impossible Things': Do you believe in a conservative, rational and smaller corrections budget?
- Responding to unanswered questions on Rodney Ellis' innocence legislation: "How much of an innocence problem do we really have in this state?"
- Technical revocations still awfully high after much-vaunted probation reforms
- Governor endorses radical cuts to prison agency
- Corrections budget cuts concentrated in community supervision, set TDCJ up to fail
- Adios to Texas State Law Library? Legal collections statewide feeling budget pinch
- TDCJ reduced spending on prisoner food 13.5% since 2009
- Budget cuts would separate church from state (prisons): Chaplains on the chopping block
- House, Senate budgets set up false debate on corrections priorities
- Pub ed going well on surcharge amnesty, but probationers need to be notified
- Declining DWI convictions and the unmitigated failure of the Driver Responsibility surcharge
- DPS announces rollout of amnesty, indigence programs for Driver Responsibility surcharge
- Dozens of new crimes proposed at the Lege: Will LBB man up and assign them fiscal notes?
- Delay, delay, it's the word of the day: Bradley proffers excuses to put off investigating forensic errors
- Victim recantation spurs possible East Texas innocence claim
- Bill requiring eyewitness ID policies a good first step, but remedy still needed for noncompliance
- Justice solutions proffered at TPPF orientation
- Security theater vs. crime fighting reality during an era of tight budgets
- Experts: Willingham investigation negligent even by 1991 standards
- 'Putting iPhones behind bars"
- Pretrial detention for misdemeanors contributes to Bexar jail costs
- Rise in officer traffic deaths points to need to limit high-speed chases
- Senate Criminal Justice Committee: Highlights from interim recommendations
- Top Texas Criminal Justice Stories of 2010