Monday, May 13, 2013

Conference committee rejected higher funding for law-school innocence clinics

Disappointing news this morning on funding for innocence clinics at Texas' four public law schools, an issue your correspondent has been tracking on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The chairmen of the conference committee on the budget overruled the recommendation of their fellow conferees, siding with the House budget giving each clinic $100,000 per year and rejecting the Senate's more generous recommendation to boost the amount to $150K. As of Friday, a conferee working group  recommended siding with the Senate, your correspondent confirmed with staff from both chambers. But over the weekend, Chairmen Rep. Jim Pitts and Sen. Tommy Williams set aside their recent squabbles and met to do their own markup, instead going with the House recommendation. The full committee approved the lower number this morning.

The extra money would have paid for innocence clinics' involvement in larger-scale projects like the arson review being performed in collaboration with the state fire marshal, a task undertaken at the recommendation of the state Forensic Science Commission. In addition, if the Legislature creates the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, the enacting legislation for which which will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, it was anticipated the increased clinic funding would help fulfill the commission's mandate to conduct a "thorough review or investigation of all cases in which an innocent person was convicted and exonerated," as called for in HB 166. That bill has a fiscal note declaring it will cost no money, which precludes hiring staff unless the commission succeeds in securing grant funding. So if the clinics don't get resources to perform these "thorough reviews," one wonders how they will happen?

The clinics had seen their budgets cut in 2011 to $80,000 per year, so even the $100,000 is a welcome increase, putting them on par with what they got three years ago. But it was unfortunate the chairmen didn't go with the Senate recommendation for the higher amount. The sums involved are relatively paltry, especially when you consider the tremendous multiplier effect these programs bring to bear by employing student labor. Few other state programs get so much bang for the buck, but in the end fewer bucks still means less bang.


Anonymous said...

Well, this is unfortunate and unexpected news (maybe that just shows how naive I am). The clinics do important work, most recently in collaboration with government agencies like the State Fire Marshall and the Forensic Science Commission. And as you say, it is not much money.

Anonymous said...

Perry has to have those tax cuts or else the Tea Party won't vote for him. After his deplorable performance in the presidential debates, he needs all the help he can muster.

rodsmith said...

Might be time for those law school programs to add another divisin. For follow up lawsuits agaisnt the state with a the legal fees going to the project!