- Time magazine
- Houston Chronicle
- San Antonio Current
- News4San Antonio
- KENS-San Antonio
- WOAI-San Antonio
- KLTV-Tyler (w/ negative reaction from Sheriff)
- KVIA-El Paso
Rep. Moody's innovation in HB 507 is to create a civil penalty instead of merely dropping the offense to a Class C. The bill specifically says the civil fine will not be considered a criminal conviction and police couldn't arrest people solely for possessing less than an ounce of pot. (See the text.) As a former misdemeanor prosecutor from El Paso, Moody is well-positioned to make the case for this legislation.
There are several reasons to go the civil route. Criminal drug convictions, even a ticket, carry collateral consequences like losing access to student financial aide or other benefits that a civil penalty would not. Plus, advocates can claim the bill "decriminalizes" pot, which changing this to a Class C keeps the offense in the criminal realm. Senior District Judge John Delaney from Bryan spoke at the presser and cited polling, repeated in a couple of the above-linked stories, showing 61 percent support among Texans asked a polling question which nearly exactly described Rep. Moody's bill (civil penalty, $100 fine).
The flip side is that Texas law criminalizes everything legislators don't like, even stuff that in other states is covered by civil regulations like business practices (which is why we have eleven different felonies in Texas you can commit with an oyster). So the bill cuts against the state's routine practices and may face nonpayment problems when JP courts begin to adjudicate cases. The best analogy may be red-light cameras, tickets from which are among the only comparable "civil" offenses in Texas and have poorer-than-touted payment rates. OTOH, other states have managed to crack this nut and use civil penalties for lesser offenses, so it's not as though it can't be done. And avoiding collateral consequences for a drug conviction is a big deal.
Good luck, Rep. Moody. Here's hoping you've brought the right bill at the right political moment.