With the Texas House having passed SB 135 eliminating the pick a pal grand jury system and the Senate amending HB 2150 to do the same thing, a clause encouraging diversity in grand juries is now the sticking point in the feud between Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Harold Dutton. The senator wants to reinstate the clause and the representative deleted at the behest of the governor on the House floor. The Houston Chronicle's Mike Ware summed things up thusly:
So, with just a week left in the legislative session, the House has passed its version of a Senate bill that does not include the diversity rule. And the Senate has passed a House bill that now includes the rule.There's actually a simple way out of this without facing another nasty floor fight in the House over this bill. As it turns out, Chairman Dutton is not author of HB 2150, to which grand jury reform was amended after he scuttled his own legislation; Carol Alvarado is. If Sen. Whitmire concurs on SB 135 and she takes HB 2150 to conference, it would be possible to strip out all the extant provisions except Alvarado's original bill and Whitmire's diversity clause. That way, they end up with a complete bill - done as two bills - and in a procedural posture that can actually pass in the short time remaining.
How does that play out?
The House and the Senate will have to confer on both bills, and decide which to support in a final version. Look for some political pushing and shoving on both sides to get that final wording in coming days since Whitmire and Dutton are not seeing eye to eye on much in the waning days of the legislative session.
Whitmire said Monday he has no intention of bending, and wants the diversity provision in the bill. Dutton seems just adamant.
That's my hope. IMO this debate should be over now, and discussion focused only on dotting i's and crossing t's.
UPDATE (5.27): Word now has it that the governor has expressed concern with the diversity clause Whitmire wants, so both bills will go back for concurrence - one with, one without the diversity piece - and presumably the choice will be left up to Gov. Abbott which one becomes law.
NUTHER UPDATE: A deal has been struck between Whitmire and the Governor and HB 2150 will now go to conference committee. It will likely be the version of the bill that's finally passed and signed into law.