Wednesday, April 08, 2015

This is what less government looks like: Big budget savings from reduced criminal penalties

Bills reducing criminal penalties would save big bucks, according to state estimates.  As the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee prepares to hear several bills reducing criminal penalties today, the Legislative Budget Board issued fiscal notes estimating cost savings to the state:
  • HB 254 by Thompson reducing penalties for possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance: $105.2 million.
  • HB 3326 by Thompson reducing penalties for low-level drug possession and prostitution along with adjusting theft thresholds for inflation: $163.8 million.
  • HB 2165 by Simpson legalizing pot and treating it like tomatoes: $71.2 million to the state, much more to counties and cities.
  • HB 507 by Moody reducing possession of less than an ounce of pot from a Class B misdemeanor to a civil penalty: $1.9 million, plus a net positive to counties.
To fantasize for a moment, make Grits Philosopher King and here's my suggestion: Pass HB 3326 and HB 2165, save $235 million, and use the savings to eliminate the Driver Responsibility Program. That almost certainly won't happen, but it's a function of a failure of political will, not because it's impossible to find cuts that could pay for eliminating a failed program. C'est la vie.

N.b., the fiscal note on Simpson's legalize-it bill only includes cost reductions but no sales tax revenues from the inevitable increased economic activity which would come from opening up a new domestic agricultural market. The real benefit to the state budget would be much higher.

There's really quite an impressive array of bills suggesting reduced criminal penalties (and several other topics, including warrants for the government to access cell-phone location data) on today's House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee agenda, check them out.


Anonymous said...

"Pass HB 3326 and HB 2165, save $235 million, and use the savings to eliminate the Driver Responsibility Program."

That's a brilliant idea! Too logical to move forward, but I love it.

F.G. AuBuchon said...

It's amazing how reducing penalties has such a positive fiscal note when for years increases in penalties almost always resulted in no fiscal impact.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Indeed, F.G., my first thoughts exactly!

Anonymous said...

"Under the bill, the court would be authorized to waive the civil penalty if the person cited for possession either: (1) completes a substance abuse program; or (2) performs up to ten hours of community service as recommended by the court."

What will constitute a substance abuse program? Do all of the Justices of the Peace or Municipal Courts in Texas even have an idea of what that is?

Who will monitor the community service? Doo Justices of the Peace and Municipal Courts already have relationships with non-profits, churches and the like to accomplish this. What if the person with this desire to have the civil penalty waived gets hurt while doing their community service. Who is liable? Who takes them to the hospital? Who organizes the influx of people needing to complete community service. So many unanswered unfunded things that will come to fruition and take up more time than the Justices of the Peace or the Municipal Courts have had time to think about. Everything will unfold in a reactionary manner instead of a proactive manner.

Will caseworkers be hired to monitor the substance abuse program attendance or the 10 hours of community service.

Everyone will go for the community service option because it is easier, but again, who will monitor it?

Because it will be a civil penalty akin to a speeding ticket, and many of those persons who use marijuana are less than responsible, the failure to report to court rate will go through the roof. Not to mention the increase in persons on dockets for Class C Misdemeanors.

Community service needs to be done most likely at a non-profit agency or a church. Do these agencies really want a mere 10 hours of community service?

Back to the substance abuse program. That needs to be defined. Is it an education programs regulated by the department of state health services? If it is, good luck with that as that part of DSHS is falling apart at best.