Monday, September 01, 2014

Reflecting on Rick Perry's criminal-justice vetoes

Grits has suggested in the past that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed more criminal justice reform legislation, arguably, than any sitting U.S. governor. And it's true.

It's also true, though, that some of his vetoes have been particularly damaging to the reform cause. The Austin Statesman performed an an analysis of Perry's vetoes and found that 38 of his 301 vetoes have been in the criminal justice realm. Some I agreed with; many IMO were misguided. Several, regrettably, were bills I've worked on. C'est la vie. Anyway, here are what I consider Perry's worst criminal-justice related vetoes:

Maximizing police arrest powers
Photo via The Economist
SB 730 (2001): After the US Supreme Court ruled in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista that Texas police officers could arrest a Central Texas soccer mom for a Class C misdemeanor traffic offense (in this case, a seat belt violation), the Lege passed bipartisan legislation (Chris Harris in the Senate, Senfronia Thompson and Robert Talton in the House) to forbid arrests (with four limited exceptions) for offenses where the ultimate potential penalty would not include incarceration. Perry vetoed that bill and the extra authority he granted peace officers that day in 2001 has been a source of significant mischief, not to mention additional jail overcrowding pressure, in the intervening years.

There was a second veto related to the Supreme Court's Atwater ruling in 2003, though regrettably the Statesman's database misidentified the bill. SB 1597 by Hinojosa was a watered down version that would have required police departments to enact written policies regarding when their officers may effect arrests for Class C misdemeanor violations. Perry vetoed that, too. And his threat of vetoing related bills essentially closed the issue for a decade after the 2003 compromise bill went down.

If the grassroots wing of the GOP had been in ascendance back in '01 and '03 the way they are today, I seriously doubt Perry would have vetoed these bills. But back then the former Democrat was more beholden to the police unions than to small "l" libertarians in his party base. 2005 represented the last session when the governor appeared to openly carry water for them and these "Soccer Mom Bills," as they were dubbed in the media (after the defendant in the Lago Vista case), were high on the unions' hit list in the years following the turn of the century.

Nixing restraints on police search power at traffic stops
Another unfortunate Perry veto in 2005 nixed a requirement that law enforcement obtain written or recorded oral consent before searching a vehicle at a traffic stop unless they had probable cause, in which case they didn't need it. SB 1195 by Hinojosa was good public policy, both informing drivers of their rights and generating more and better data about the murky world roadside searches. When the Austin PD began requiring written or recorded consent, the number of so-called consent searches at traffic stops declined dramatically. This was an excellent bill and Perry's veto was one of my personal biggest political disappointments during his reign.

No to Blue Warrant relief for county jails
I know there are still Sheriffs frustrated with the governor's 2007 veto of HB 541 by Trey Martinez Fischer that would have allowed parole violators arrested on "blue warrants" (an alleged parole violation) to be released on bond awaiting revocation hearings. This is a perennial complaint from counties - that housing the parolees is an unfunded mandate from the state, which is essentially true - and the governor dashed the hopes of many a local official when he throttled this modest assistance to counties to address jail overcrowding.

Don't tell ex-prisoners about voting rights
It still sticks in my craw that Gov. Perry vetoed a bill in 2007 to provide eligible inmates with voter registration information upon release. That seemed like a small thing and his veto motives appeared transparently partisan, especially after the bill was sent to his desk by a Republican-controlled Lege.

Other Veto Errata
Perry famously line-item vetoed the budget for Tony Fabelo's old Criminal Justice Policy Council, ostensibly because Fabelo issued prison population projections that necessitated either spending on prison construction or passing bills to promote de-incarceration. I've never understood why he vetoed Todd Smith's bill exempting Romeo and Juliet relationships (four years difference or less) from sex offender registration statutes - it passed 131-12 in the House, unanimously in the Senate. Perry has also been hostile to good-time credits applied to inmates seeking parole (vetoed bills in '05 and  '07), and in 2005 he insensibly vetoed Jerry Madden and John Whitmire's comprehensive probation reform package, though he signed an essentially similar bill the following session and now takes credit for it on the campaign stump.

* * *

Grits has occasionally dared to hope that the Lege might revisit some of these topics now that we'll have a new governor in 2015.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The redlining of the Policy Council's budget has always been inexplicable (although it still exists in statute). The result has been that there is no clearing house for criminal justice dataat the state level, leaving the legislature and everyone else (including the governor's office) in the dark when trying to make informed policy decisions. Almost ever other state has a Statistical Analysis Center of some sort for criminal justice data. Maybe the next administration will remedy this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be fair, 12:04, in the end LBB picked up the role admirably. But it was a couple of sessions before their work was comparable. In the end it worked out (bc the Lege needed that data, whether from Fabelo or whoever). In the short-to-medium term it was a mess.

Dr Hilarius said...

It's almost as if there is a "police state" superior to the wishes of the electorate. This holds true in national politics as well (see what actually happens once Ferguson falls out of the news cycles).

Soronel Haetir said...

I can see some potentially legitimate concern with a four year window for exemption from registration. Make it two or three years instead and such a veto becomes much harder to justify.

Anonymous said...

veto of the romeo bill was unfortunate. Definitely needed to be passed or at least reduce down to a lower category of offense.

Anonymous said...

Meet the new governor, same as the old governor.

Except he's running further to the right. Well, wheeling himself in that direction, anyway.

Anonymous said...

The legislature seems to be putting on a horse and pony show for this next session. If they want to make real and lasting criminal justice reforms, they will visit the issues of state jail reform, community drug treatment, and mental health diversion. Downsizing state jail drug offenses to misdeamenors would be a great start. Treatment instead of criminalization would be nice.