- Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, filed three bills that would focus on helping victims of human trafficking.
- HB 21, by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, would create a database of individuals with multiple family violence crimes.
- HB 23, by Martinez Fischer, would require sex offenders to list their offenses on social media sites.
- HB 104, by Rep. Larry Gonzales, would repeal the Driver Responsibility Act, which requires drivers to pay expensive annual surcharges for certain traffic violations. Failing to pay results in suspension of a driver's license.
- SB 88, by Ellis, would allow the governor to grant more than one 30-day reprieve for a death row inmate.
- SB 89, by Ellis, would create a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions
- SB 91, also by Ellis, would require prosecutors and defense lawyers to share evidence in criminal cases
Ellis' innocence commission bill IMO is a bit of an anachronism and efforts in Texas to exonerate innocent folk from prison have arguably moved beyond it. Grits would rather see the state boost funding to innocence clinics at the state's largest law schools if it's going to invest in the task of investigating old innocence cases. (In the interest of full disclosure, my day job is with the Innocence Project of Texas, whose policy stance happily coincides with my own.) The innocence commission was a suggested tactic from the past, but where they were created they never did much and Texas has developed its own mechanisms - somewhat organically, though spurred and partially funded by the Legislature - for pursuing cold innocence cases through the law schools and a network of private attorneys. The investigation into old arson cases currently underway shows more promise as a model for how to vet old innocence claims than any "innocence commission" created anywhere in the country. At this historical juncture, the state should build on its own successes on this score rather than seek to copy what somebody else has done.
These weren't the only criminal justice related bills. On the House side (see all filed bills), Martinez-Fischer has a bill to create "an executive commissioner for the prevention of driving while intoxicated." His HB 27 would make cell phone use while driving illegal except for law enforcement and emergency vehicles. Allen Fletcher has an enhancement for leaving the scene of an auto accident that results in death. He also filed a bill exempting drivers' contact information on traffic tickets from the Public Information Act, a suggestion with all sorts of unintended consequences which IMO make it a very bad idea. (More later.) Rep. Menendez has a prostitution enhancement and another one for graffiti. And he's filed an interesting little bill requiring suspension of Medicaid eligibility for jail inmates bur also mandating their reinstatement upon release. (I'd need to know more about what problem this aims to solve to form an opinion.) Senfronia Thompson has a bill related to diversion programs for juveniles accused of prostitution. Lois Kolkhorst has a bill banning the use of RFID tags to track kids in school. David Simpson has refiled his bill to limit intrusive searches in airports. Richard Raymond filed a manslaughter enhancement for DWI, and a perhaps quixotic bill to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals.
On the Senate side (see the full list of filed bills), I like state Sen. Dan Patrick's idea to eliminate straight ticket voting in judicial races. I'd personally like to make them entirely nonpartisan, like city council seats. And Sen. Ellis has a bill expanding access to probation for low-level drug offenders, including a court-fee based funding source for treatment programming. Though not exactly a criminal justice bill (the drug war prosecuted by other means), SB 11 would require welfare recipients to pass a drug test to receive support.
For betting purposes, Grits would put the over-under on new crimes and penalty enhancements the Lege will pass at 53. As an added prediction: Despite having just more than a third of House seats, most enhancements that pass will be filed by Democrats and most of them will originate in the House. I don't know why, but judging from years past that seems to be the trend.
Obviously, these are only filed bills listed above, and as my father likes to say, there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Likely there will be some 7,000 or so pieces of legislation filed before the session is through, with perhaps 1,000 of them in some way shape or form (often quite different from how they began) eventually becoming law. I've only provided cursory summaries here, so please check out the bills that particularly interest you and provide your own analyses in the comments.