Monday, April 15, 2013

Criminal-justice committee action this week with time running down

With just a month and a half to go in the 83rd Texas legislative session, this is perhaps the last week where bills heard for the first time in the originating chamber have time to make it through the process. Indeed, one could argue it was last week, but the House in particular has been slow getting legislation onto the floor for votes so bills heard this week could still get in the queue. (House floor calendars so far have been awfully short, with lots of bills backed up in the Calendars Committee waiting for a vote.) With that in mind, let's take a quick look at highlights on criminal-justice related committee agendas this week:

Senate Criminal Justice

SB 1003 by Carona would create an Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force to study ways to reduce use of solitary confinement and provide better services to those in ad seg.

SB 1044 by Rodriguez would allow public defender offices access to DPS criminal history records without a fee. When the companion bill was heard in the House, Rep. Matt Schaefer suggested the same courtesy should be extended to the criminal defense bar.

SB 1448 by Hinojosa would allow courts to enter nondisclosure orders for Class C misdemeanors. The bill analysis says the purpose is to prevent employers from holding convictions for petty offenses against potential new hires.

See the list of bills the committee has voted out so far. N.b., the regular Tuesday meeting has been changed to Wednesday.

House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence

SB 825 by Whtimire would disallow the state bar from issuing secret "private" sanctions when prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence. This is the first senate bill I've seen in a House committee on criminal justice topics. By next week I'd expect quite a few more.

HB 2772 by Justin Rodriguez would require an interim study on judicial selection. Because that issue hasn't been studied nearly enough.

HB 90 by Thompson would create civil liability for media who accept advertising promoting compelled prostitution or individuals who advertise such services on a website.

See a list of bills the committee has voted out so far.

House Criminal Jurisprudence

HB 1069 by McLendon would adjust misdemeanor and state jail felony theft categories upward to account for the effects of inflation, which every year make it a felony to steal less and less stuff. Grits has argued that these theft categories should be automatically adjusted for inflation.

HB 2266 by Larson would allow courts to waive Class C fines for children the same way they do for indigents when alternative means of settling the fine or costs would "impose an undue hardship on the defendant."

HB 2849 by White would adjust graffiti penalties to make more offense a misdemeanor. Graff writers would need to do $3,000 worth of damage to qualify for a state jail felony, increased from the current $1,500 threshold which hasn't been changed since 1993. This is a good idea for the same reasons I support McLendon's HB 1069 - $1,500 worth of property damage in 1993 was a much higher threshold than it is today thanks to the vagaries of inflation.

HB 2579 by Wu would add immigration facilities to the definition of correctional facilities for the purpose of prosecuting certain offenses against people in custody. These facilities hold federal detainees but the state can prosecute such offenses because they're all privately run. Looks like a really good bill to me.

See a list of bills the committee has voted out so far.

House Corrections

HB 686 by Marquez would require new reporting about administrative segregation (bureaucrat-speak for solitary confinement) related to mental health, recidivism and reentry. This would be a helpful bill. When the Lege has taken up ad seg issues in the past they've found a virtual information vacuum on these topics.

HB 1266 by Guillen is a companion bill to SB 1003 described above creating an Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force.

HB 1388 by Workman would allow counties with populations above 335,000 to sentence juveniles to their own post-adjudication facility instead of sending them to youth prisons run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Travis County wants to do this; I'm not sure who else might.

HB 3634 would create an interim task force to study whether to change Texas' definition of "juvenile" to include 17 year olds, an adjustment that would bring us in line with most states as well as federal law. The discrepancy creates near-constant problems, including the elimination by the US Supreme Court of all eligible punishments for 17-year olds convicted in Texas of capital murder.

See a list of bills the committee has voted out so far.

House Homeland Security and Public Safety

HB 730 by Raymond would amend the Occupations Code  to allow law enforcement officers to become certified to use an electromagnetic pulse device to disable electronic systems. Nothing could possibly go wrong with proliferating that technology, right? And Heaven knows TCLEOSE doesn't have enough to do already (/sarcasm).

HB 267 by Miles would require civil service cities (just over 70 departments out of 2,600+ Texas law enforcement agencies) to have a civilian review board with subpoena power to investigate misconduct complaints. Our police union friends will be all over that one.

HB 2897 by Doug Miller would create an "integrated intelligence system" aimed at fugitive apprehension which would "aggregate data from the criminal justice system, commercial sources, and public sources to create an automated predictive process." Fusion centers were supposed to aggregate such information and in practice turned out to be mostly worthless. I wonder why this would be any different?

See a list of bills voted out of committee so far.

These are just a sampling of criminal justice bills that will be heard this week in committee. Click on the committee name to see the full agendas.


Phillip Baker said...

I'm using this slim opening about felony records to try to begin talk about fairness. A person commits some felony offense, is tried and given a punishment. Using a blanket denial of work to any "felon" just adds to the punishment- for life- and that hardly seems fair. People use the word "felony" for everything, but the offense behind it varies widely. No distinction is made for hot checks felons and murder felons. That's stupid. There should be some period of time when a "felon" who has not re-offended can shed that onerous label, be able to get work again, lease again, etc. Not for all jobs, clearly, and not for especially violent crimes. We're creating this huge underbelly of society of people who cannot get a second chance and become a drag on us all. Why?

Anonymous said...

I believe a bill allowing most convictions, except for violent offenses, to be expunged after five years. You should have seen the bellyaching over on the TDCAA board about it. They were whining about not being able to use stuff for enhancement, etc. Other states allow convictions to be expunged. If it works for them, it would work in Texas also.

Anonymous said...

These devices like Tasers do have there place. That said, I can see an officer wiping out the electronics in a suspects car for speeding or even minor infractions. And the pusle like Radar has a spread to it so bystanding electronics also get fried. After all the Tasers were never used against anyone the officer could easily control otherwise.

Just saying.


PS what about a brown sound generator, nothing like making a suspect S..t in his pants.

Anonymous said...

PS The elctromagnetic pulse bill reasds"without causing perminate damage to the vehicle. It is not perminate I guess if you can replace the fried devices.


Terri LeClercq said...

I'm not seeing HB 968, about zero-tolerance for staff who retaliate when an inmate files a grievance. Have you heard anything about it?