Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Juvenile Justice committee in Texas House; other rules changes

Grits finally had a moment to go through this session's rules for the Texas House of Representatives, as approved in HR 4. (Read them here for yourself.) Here are some changes which may interest Grits readers:

Juvenile justice was taken out of the Corrections Committee's domain and given its own committee: Juvenile Justice and Family Matters, which will have seven members. (Chairs and members haven't been named yet.) As a practical matter this was probably a good move: The Corrections Committee has a big enough task with oversight of the adult system to delve into juvenile stuff in depth during the brief 140 day session. But there may also be a political angle to the division given that Sen. John Whitmire and Tony Fabelo are openly talking about shuttering more youth prisons. The appointment of the chairman may tell a lot about whether the Speaker agrees with Whitmire regarding further downsizing at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will have seven instead of nine members. I liked it with nine. C'est la vie.

Bill analyses must henceforth include "a statement indicating whether or not the bill or resolution expressly creates a criminal offense, expressly increases the punishment for an existing criminal offense or category of offenses, or expressly changes the eligibility of a person for community supervision, parole, or mandatory supervision."

Bills that create new crimes, increase penalties, change probation or parole eligibility must now say so in the bill caption. IMO they should have gone further by requiring those bills to have a fiscal note, meaning they'd have to be accounted for in the budget. In the past, the Legislative Budget Board insisted nearly all bills increasing penalties or creating new crimes would have no significant fiscal impact on the state, though the cumulative impact off passing dozens of new crimes and "enhancements" each session has been enormous.

This will be helpful: The Parliamentarian must now give written explanations for rulings on points of order, including cites to precedent. The whys and wherefores of point of order denials have long been a mystery - maybe this will promote more consistency.

It's regrettable that this change was necessary: "The committee coordinator may exclude from the committee coordinator's office or refuse to interact with a member or a member's staff if the member or member's staff engages in abusive, harassing, or threatening behavior." Wouldn't you love to learn the backstory behind that new rule?

The General Investigative and Ethics Committee was given additional authority including the power to propose articles of impeachment and to investigate misconduct by political appointees at agencies. Given what's happened recently at the Department of State Health Services and the Legislature's run ins with UT regent Wallace Hall, this could be a highly significant development.

The Technology Committee was eliminated and science and tech issues were handed to the renamed Government Transparency and Operation Committee. The language describing their turf is theoretically broad enough to include forensic science but DPS crime labs and the Forensic Science Commission remain under the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, whose jurisdiction didn't change.

The rules further limited access to media credentials and created a method for legislators who want to challenge a reporter's credentials if they engaged in lobbying or advocacy on the floor. I've never heard of that being an issue, so unless there was some episode last session of which I'm unaware, this seems like a solution looking for a problem. UPDATE: A reader reminds me the media credential issue was in response to Michael Quinn Sullivan, FWIW.


Anonymous said...

Would really like to see the documentation for the Texas Ethics Commission rule change.

Anonymous said...

Where and when have Sen. John Whitmire and Tony Fabelo openly talked about shuttering more youth prisons? I havent heard or seen it.

Anonymous said...


If you compare House Rule 14, Section 8, from the previous legislative session and the version of that section as adopted
by the House in H.R. No. 4, you'll see that the previous version of the rule did require the speaker to require the parliamentarian provide each member with a written explanation of the ruling.
The new version of Section 8 adds only that the written explanation be provided to the members through the electronic legislative information system.

Anonymous said...

See the below article:


Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:17, thanks for the clarification.

@11:33, in addition to the Chron article 2:37 referenced, see this Grits post on the shuttering youth prisons suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I believe the clock is ticking on TJJD. There is so much waste in the central office it's unbelievable. How many attornies do they need? Ineffective state facilities staff have led to the steady decline in quality of services provided to the juveniles committed there. The only efective way to initiate change is from the most senior staff who instill thier poor work ethic in newly hired officers.