Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Notable TX criminal justice legislation from the first day of bill filing

Yesterday was the first day of bill filing for the 84th Texas Legislature which convenes in January. It should be said; filing early offers no inherent benefits except, perhaps from publicity and giving advocates more time to work the bills. But the bill filing deadline isn't until March 13 and most bills will be filed closer to that deadline, especially with as many rookie legislators as we'll have this go-round. Anyway, here are a few interesting looking criminal justice bills that jumped out at me from yesterday (see the full list of bills filed Monday).

Abolish the Driver Responsibility surcharge
State Sen. Rodney Ellis filed legislation, SB 93, to repeal the driver responsibility program, expanding requirements for driver education coursed for folks with multiple violations in its stead. I expect similar House legislation to be filed, probably by Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), who filed it last session. But they're really not going to solve this problem without identifying an alternative revenue stream for trauma hospitals.

Cops as bill collectors?
State Rep. Allen Fletcher wants cops to carry credit card swipers with them at traffic stops so they can accept payment for a ticket there on the spot instead of having the courts assess and accept Class C misdemeanor fines (HB 121). Certainly that would remove any pretense that traffic enforcement is about public safety as opposed to mulcting drivers in the name of revenue generation. Due process is still a guaranteed, constitutional right, though, even if as a practical matter it's become a pretense in most of the millions of Class C traffic cases every year. This idea seems like it's taking several long strides down a slippery slope.

Tent jails redux
HB 161 by Rep. Lyle Larson would allow counties to house prisoners in tents a la Joe Arpaio in Arizona. Sombody files this every year, but it's hard to see it going anywhere while the litigation at TDCJ over excessive heat is still pending - if those court rulings go against the state they'd just be doubling down on their troubles by passing this.

Don't remove statute of limitations in non-DNA rape cases
Several bills filed, all by Democrats, would remove the statute of limitations for rape in non-DNA cases, a terrible idea that will result in more false convictions. These bills are providing backup to some ill-considered Wendy Davis demagoguery from the campaign that should be swept aside as decisively as her political ambitions. This is bad public policy: Statute of limitations exist for a reason and a fair trial can't be had decades after the fact without forensic proof.

Sex pics criminalized if shared with others
State Rep. Ryan Guillen filed a bill making disclosure of photos depicting sexual conduct a state jail felony if the subject of the photo has not consented (think so-called "revenge porn"). I'll be interested to hear what First Amendment experts like Mark Bennett think about the idea. The Lege has lately seen a couple of other, related statutes struck down in the courts because they painted with too broad a brush and HB 101 seems cut from the same cloth.

Improper Photography 2.0
Rep. Jose Menendez filed a much narrower version of Texas' improper photography law (HB 147), which was recently, unanimously overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. I'd have to compare it more closely to the court decision, but he appears to be trying to limit the bill to its confies. (Note to Mark Bennett: Whaddya think?)

Back again on texting while driving
Several members, led by former Speaker Tom Craddick (HB 80), want to ban texting despite the fact that states which enacted such bans saw distracted driving crashes increase (people still use their phones, they just hold them in their laps making the process less safe). This has a shot because, though Perry vetoed it before, we now have a new governor.

Increase burden of proof on asset forfeiture
Sen. Chuy Hinojosa filed a good, incremental bill increasing the burden of proof in asset forfeiture cases from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing" (SB 95)

'Raise the Age'
Rep. Ruth McLendon Jones and Sen. Hinojosa both filed legislation (HB and SB, respectively) to raise the age of adult criminal liability from 17 to 18 years old. Part of me wished for Republican sponsors on this - maybe they can bolster support by garnering R joint and co-authors - but for a variety of reasons the issue may have legs this session no matter who is carrying it.

Drug diversion
On the de-incarceration front, state Sen. Rodney Ellis filed SB 82 to expand use of community supervision for possession-level felony drug crimes. And Hinojosa has one to mandate that people convicted of serious felonies are released to supervision instead of being released directly from prison unsupervised (SB 99). Lots of Republicans were talking along the same lines during the interim; we'll see if anything comes of it.

Truancy reform
John Whitmire has a bill (SB 106) to reduce the burden of truancy violations but which falls short of decriminalizing truancy as experts and advocates have proposed. In the House, though, Rep. James White filed a bill to eliminate the offense from the books altogether (HB 93). If that doesn't fly, White has another bill (HB 107) that would make the max penalty for truancy $20, far below Whitmire's thresholds and perhaps so low it's not worth the courts' time to process. And he filed HB 110 which would eliminate judges' ability to jail defendants found in contempt for failure to comply with ordes to attend school. So there's no clear consensus yet on how they'll do it, but folks are clearly hoping to address the truancy issue this session.

Limit grants to 'peace officer organization' engaged in politics
Jonathon Stickland filed a bill (HB 137) to ban state grants to "peace officer organizations" if they lobby or operate a PAC. I don't know what grants they get, but that oughtta get CLEAT and TMPA hot under the collar.

Ban red-light cameras
Stickland also filed HB 142 which would ban red-light camera enforcement systems as well as speed cameras. He's not the first to try, but I hope he succeeds.

Legalize the Bowie knife
That's the effect of Rep. James' White's HB 92. One would still be forbidden from owning a "dagger," "dirk," stiletto," and "poniard." I must say, if we're going to let folks carry guns virtually everywhere (and despite naysayers' criticisms, murder rates have fallen as that trend has grown), I fail to understand such sweeping restrictions on knives or why Second Amendment crowd hasn't insisted that the right to bear arms applies equally to daggers, poniards and Bowie knives as assault rifles and handguns. Maybe that's beginning: Last session the Lege legalized switchblades. A related bill by Jon Stickland (HB 172) would prevent municipalities from regulating knives, stunguns, and personal defense sprays.

'Nuther try for an innocence commission
Rep. McLendon and Sen. Rodney Ellis filed bills to create a special commission to study the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms (HB 48 and SB 81). Last session a similar bill passed the House but failed to make it through the senate. Said McLendon in a press release, "This is not an issue of party politics; it is an issue of ethics. At every stage of the criminal justice process, we have a moral and legal responsibility to assure that no innocent person is convicted while a truly guilty one goes free." According to the release, "primary tasks of the commission would be considering solutions and methods designed to correct errors and defects in the system by changing state rules, regulations, procedures and legislation."

* * *

This isn't a comprehensive list but just the stuff that immediately jumped out at me. See the full list from yesterday, and more bills will be filed today.

27 comments:

jasonhgtruitt said...

"from the campaign that should be swept aside as decisively as her political ambitions."

Ouch! But, well-deserved.

"(and despite naysayers' criticisms, murder rates have fallen as that trend has grown)"

I seem to remember you writing about falling violent crime rates in states not so friendly to gun ownership, such as California and New York, as well. I have always thought of the claim (mostly by Texans and Floridians, as far as I can tell) that CW and open-carry laws reduce violent crime as more correlation than causation. New York's murder rate has also dropped significantly, has it not?

Anonymous said...

We just continue to change the rules of the game as we go along....

Anonymous said...

Re: surcharge bill: what were they doing before that flunky passed the first time with regard to trauma care?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Jason, I have never claimed that concealed carry, etc., reduced crime. New York's murder rate fell much more than ours and they have strict gun laws. OTOH, Chicago and D.C. have strict gun laws and relatively high murder rates.

My point was that Texas' murder rates fell significantly in the years following passage of concealed carry - not as much as in New York but still, to a remarkable degree. Liberal demagoguery claiming concealed carry would result in shootouts in the streets turned out to be patently false. The opposite occurred and more guns empirically did not result in more murders.

@1:26, this was a new revenue stream for trauma centers, it didn't replace other revenue.

jasonhgtruitt said...

I get all that, and that was going to be my point as well. I guess I read something else into the way you phrased your 'naysayer' comment.

Anonymous said...

Sure would hate to see the DRP get continued on the feel-good reason of funding trauma centers. If trauma centers are to be funded that money should come from more income streams that just DRP.

Anonymous said...

Ditto 5:43.

Anonymous said...

Has the DRP ever been challenged in the courts and if so, how high? It looks like double jeopardy to me. It also amazes me that Rep. Pickett in El Paso is the chair of this committee and he continues to find ways to continue this failure yet has the highest amount of people not paying it. Isn't that right?

sunray's wench said...

Scott - does the concealed carry also relate to lower accidental deaths and injuries from guns too?

There needs to be some kind of sanity test with new laws (in any juristiction). I don't see how most of those mentioned actualy help anyone.

Anonymous said...

When compared to the national average Texas incarcerates 45% more individuals. That 50,000 inmates and with an annual cost of $3.3 billion that's an extra $1.0 in costs. Texas also ranks 49th in per capita spending for public education. To put in in stark terms, two inmates equals the cost of one new teacher. Which is better for the future of Texas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@sunray, I don't know those data, though I do know that suicides are more common than homicides.

I don't doubt that more guns in the home means a greater chance of accidents, suicides, etc. (though I haven't seen data one way or the other re: concealed carry househols). I only dispute that the advent of concealed carry or the loosening of gun laws caused homicides to rise - the numbers don't bear that out.

OTOH, I do NOT believe concealed carry, Castle doctrine, etc., reduced violent crime. The data don't bear out that meme, either, since states without those laws saw steeper crime declines. IMO other factors are at play.

On the DRP - Pickett thinks abolition can't be done so won't try. And it may be true that HE can't do it. They need GOP leadership to get it done.

Anonymous said...

Dear legislature,
How about a bill designed to give Due Process to registered sex offenders (RSO)? Especially those who's conviction pre-date the enactment of these laws which violate Ex Post Facto. What would be the harm in allowing an RSO to go before a judge to show cause why he/she should not be on the registry? It could even be adversarial; meaning, that the state or parole board, could send their advocate to dispute the petitioner's attempt at coming off the registry. Again, what would be be the harm in allowing this process? At least it would give a person some measure of Due Process, something the current process does not. They just slap this stuff on you without a hearing, without a court's finding of future dangerousness or anything, they just do it and that my friends is very dangerous for everyone. Therefore, if someone could get this idea to say, Rep Whitmire and ask this to be at least looked at this would be a good start at giving RSOs their life back and indeed, their manhood back.

caseymag said...

I would sure like to see a bill taking away the authority of DPS to ignore legislative mandate of full fingerprinting when applying for and renewing licenses. It's a gross overreach of personal privacy and rights.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the ban on texting and driving will have make it past the governor's desk this year. Hopefully the new governor will look more favorably on the bill.

sunray's wench said...

A bill to disallow the BPP reason for denial of parole of "insufficient time served" and "nature of offence" would be good. The inmate cannot do anything about either of those things after the fact, and especially in the case of time served, the BPP are basically saying they don't agree with the sentence and that's not their job.

A bill to require TDCJ to permit inmates the ability to call overseas would be really nice too.

Michael W. Jewell, President, Texas CURE said...

During the last legislative session Rep. Alma Allen introduced HB 877, which called for an Independent Oversight Committee to act as watch dog over the prison system. Texas Cure had representatives who testified at the hearing in support of the bill, but alas, it died in committee. An oversight committee would not only serve to protect the constitutional rights of prisoners, it would save Texas taxpayers train loads of money. The prison system has shelled out billions of dollars as a result of prisoner litigation. In hindsight we realize that HB 877 was not the best solution.

A perfect model for a prison oversight committee is the Office of the Independent Ombudsman that monitors the Juvenile Justice system, which was established as part of the initial juvenile justice reforms in 2007. The OIO was established for the purpose of investigating, evaluating and securing the rights of children committed to state juvenile justice facilities, which before creation of the Ombudsman's office was a virtual feeding ground for sexual predators and child abusers. Now, we seldom hear of violations in juvenile facilities.

Texas is in dire need of an adult version of the OIO that would investigate, evaluate, and secure the rights of Texas prisoners.

Michael W. Jewell, President, Texas CURE said...

This is a P.S. to my earlier comment:
Texas CURE has joined the efforts of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, the Texas Inmate Family Association, Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, and the Texas Civil Rights Project in pushing for an adult version of the OIO.

Anonymous said...

To MWJ,
as long as it is mandated to oversee county jails too.

Anonymous said...

Start with Comal County and their abusive treatment of older populations. Being retired, going to Comal County is like going on a vacation to Germany as a Jew during WWII.

TriggerMortis said...

Seems you missed SB 135, which does away with the key-man system of empaneling grand juries. IMO, this is the most important of them all.

Unfortunately, cops, prosecutors, and even judges will kill this bill before it makes it to committee in order to keep control of their real power.

Anonymous said...

Grits
perhaps not as many places have ridiculous knife-laws. The "Second Amendment crowd" does talk about bearing and possessing knives, at least on Ammo Land.


~~
LAVA
~~

Anonymous said...

Grits I want to be Tarzan, save Jane, and kick superman in his arce and save Louis Lane. Which party do I belong?

rodsmith said...

this is very nice!

"Anonymous said...
Dear legislature,
How about a bill designed to give Due Process to registered sex offenders (RSO)? Especially those who's conviction pre-date the enactment of these laws which violate Ex Post Facto. What would be the harm in allowing an RSO to go before a judge to show cause why he/she should not be on the registry? It could even be adversarial; meaning, that the state or parole board, could send their advocate to dispute the petitioner's attempt at coming off the registry. Again, what would be be the harm in allowing this process? At least it would give a person some measure of Due Process, something the current process does not. They just slap this stuff on you without a hearing, without a court's finding of future dangerousness or anything, they just do it and that my friends is very dangerous for everyone. Therefore, if someone could get this idea to say, Rep Whitmire and ask this to be at least looked at this would be a good start at giving RSOs their life back and indeed, their manhood back.

11/12/2014 09:04:00 AM"

but I see no reason to make an illegal on it's face system LEGAL.

Sorry but under our LEGAL constitution in any conflict between the state and a citizen the burden of proof is supposed to be on the STATE not the defendant.

Sorry but if the state thinks "x" is just so damn dangerous they want to put them on retroactive illegal parole and track them for life. THEN PROVE IT! to a REAL JUDGE. not the new illegal so-called sex offender civil commitment judges.

right now every gov't agent involved in the current sytem is a traitor to their oath of office to uphold and protect the United States Constitution.

That means legally we CAN remove you if we want. No matter HOW we have to do it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Trigger Mortis, you're right, I did miss that first time around. Will get to it soon: I bet it gets a hearing, at least.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Grits, thanks for bringing this one to readers attention.

"Nuther try for an innocence commission"

Just remember, any commission or committee seeking to learn the real causes and remedies being devoid of multiple member(s) having been falsely arrested & wrongfully convicted via various methods utilized over the last three or so decades, is a sham. I'll let you know what the authors have to say about the potential make up of members and if they have any experience in the field. Get it?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Ban red-light cameras. How we gonna claim we innocent when they got us on camera?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't texting and driving bill filed first day?