Sunday, June 17, 2018

#cjreform in the Texas GOP 2018 party platform

Grits is back from the Texas state GOP convention in San Antonio, where Just Liberty had a booth from which we promoted a number of criminal-justice reform planks in the party platform. Delegates approved quite a few #cjreform items worthy of readers' attention:
  • Raise the Age. Calls on the Lege to raise the age of adult criminal culpability from 17 to 18.
  • End debtors prisons. The party wants to "end the incarceration of individuals because they cannot pay tickets, fines, and fees for Class C misdemeanors, including traffic citations."
  • Abolition of the Driver Responsibility Program. Includes a call to "immediately restore the driver licenses of the citizens whose licenses were suspended by the DRP and to cancel their debt."
  • Quicker processing of rape kits. The party wants crime labs sufficiently funded to reduce rape-kit processing times to 90 days.
  • Opposition to warrantless government surveillance. Two planks on this, one with general wording, and one calling on the Legislature to require a warrant for the government to access cell-phone location data.
  • Civil penalty for pot possession. The party endorsed reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession from a Class B misdemeanor to a civil offense (essentially, a $100 ticket).
  • Remove cannabis from list of Schedule 1 drugs. This was a plank aimed at Congress.
  • Medical marijuana. The party wants to "allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis for certified patients."
  • Militarization of police. Calls for "reporting and training standards" for military equipment obtained by police from the federal 1033 program, as well as a requirement that the elected governing body approve any application to the program with a formal vote.
  • Indigent defense. Calls on the Legislature to fully fund indigent criminal defense.
Moreover, several items that were in the 2016 platform made it in again:
  • No arrests for Class C misdemeanors (except when necessary to prevent family violence)
  • Require a criminal conviction for asset forfeiture
  • Eliminate red-light cameras and other photo-enforcement systems
Notably, the "Criminal and Civil Justice" section of the state GOP platform included a requisite appreciation of law enforcement, but with caveats:
We express our gratitude and appreciation for police officers, first responders, armed forces, and veterans. And furthermore we support local law enforcement agencies and associated personnel to the extent local and state police officers are properly and adequately trained and supervised or otherwise internally and individually held accountable for any conduct which is found to violate state law or the Texas State Constitution.
There were a few #cjreform items that didn't make it in, but overall that was a successful effort. Check out Just Liberty's special, hour-long podcast interviewing conservative leaders on various #cjreform platform planks being proposed.

* * *

A few thoughts on the process:

Historically, party platforms don't carry tremendous influence during the legislative session. The dizzying array of suggestions and demands can be overwhelming. No one can agree with all of it, which in a strange way frees legislators from an obligation to agree with any of it.

But the Texas GOP under the James-Dickey regime has been promoting their platform more vigorously. E.g., failure to comply with the platform was the pretext for censuring House Speaker Joe Straus. And there were failed attempts at the convention to censure sitting officials like state Rep. Byron Cook and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn for failing to abide by the platform's principles. Especially on the GOP side, politicians are being called to account more than any time in recent memory over fealty to the platform. (Correction: Rep. Byron Cook, a commenter corrected me, ultimately was censured on a re-vote.)

At the same time, many delegates expressed deep dissatisfaction with the platform overall, which is a bit of a jumbled mess, in places, and is too long for any normal person to ever sit down and read. While this wasn't my first convention, I'd never seen the platform process up close. Those 31 volunteer committee members go through a grueling and thankless experience, working late into the evenings (read: missing all the parties), with very little time to investigate any issue closely. (Note to the state party: Next time, feed those people and give them coffee!) By the end, they were all exhausted. That didn't seem like a reasonable thing to expect human beings to endure. And they all paid to be there!

On culture-war issues, the platform takes some extreme stances that appear to flaunt a basic commitment to the rule of law. E.g., it calls on the Legislature to "reject" the Supreme Court's ruling allowing same-sex marriages, and to "ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings" on pro-life issues.

Can we be frank? It's difficult to reconcile the extremist devotion to the Constitution expressed by so many party loyalists with a legislative priority to "ignore and refuse to enforce" federal laws and Supreme Court rulings on pro-life stuff. Since every Texas elected official takes an oath to uphold and defend the "Constitution and laws of the United States," that clause in the legislative priorities almost screams to elected officials, "You don't have to follow this!"

But that's the culture war. For the criminal-justice issues Just Liberty cares about, the platform signals to GOP legislators that a #cjreform vote on these topics is a "safe" one.

In addition, in an interesting and useful way, the process of promoting reform planks through all the various senate districts was like a massive focus group getting feedback on our issues. Even better: It introduced us to hundreds of supporters across Texas whom we now can contact and help plug into the process when the legislative session rolls around. If delegates who supported these ideas in San Antonio continue to participate next spring, it will help all these bills move forward.

I appreciated everyone who helped promote Just-Liberty-endorsed planks and who helped us navigate the party processes. Thank you! We had a lot of fun this week.

Finally, just for kicks, if you haven't heard our little platform campaign jingle (which means you're not a podcast listener or following Just Liberty's Facebook page), give it a listen. It's been running through Grits' head all morning.

12 comments:

Don Hooper said...

The election of James Dickie and the censure of Byron Cook is very important to the analysis here. The establishment Republicans took a beating. All of this was designed to send a message that the party intends to hold our elected officials accountable for the platform. Joe Straus can explain all of this to anyone wishing to listen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be clear, the censure of Byron Cook failed. But I agree it demonstrates a renewed interest in promoting and enforcing platform planks.

Doc Merlin said...

@gritsforbreakfast:
"To be clear, the censure of Byron Cook failed. But I agree it demonstrates a renewed interest in promoting and enforcing platform planks."

- no it didn't. The committee revoted, and reversed itself and then the floor voted to censure him.
Here's the final numbers. The censure vote is line 700.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wkOWnHOodODciH6HIn4Z1FmBMczUd6_p8IpaNU0oGMA/edit#gid=575645718

Anonymous said...

Cook was censured on a re-vote.. The censure was ratified in the plank.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ah, my error, thanks! I was there for the first vote, but was focused on the CJ stuff and didn't see it brought up again. Corrected in the text.

Anonymous said...

Your criminal Justice platform was well thought out.

Anonymous said...


• End debtors prisons. The party wants to "end the incarceration of individuals because they cannot pay tickets, fines, and fees for Class C misdemeanors, including traffic citations."

• Abolition of the Driver Responsibility Program. Includes a call to "immediately restore the driver licenses of the citizens whose licenses were suspended by the DRP and to cancel their debt."

Agree BUT distinguish between the ability and willful failure to pay debt:

The Courts emphasized that a willful failure to pay a fine was distinguishable from a defendant’s inability to do so. It is because of this distinction— between a defendant who refuses to pay criminal justice debt and a defendant who lacks the means to pay—that an ability to pay determination must take place before someone is jailed for nonpayment of criminal justice debt.
https://cjdebtreform.org/state/85
https://csgjusticecenter.org/courts/publications/criminal-justice-debt-reform-builder/

Anonymous said...

•Agree: Indigent defense. Calls on the Legislature to fully fund indigent criminal defense.

Indigent defense should not be considered an option for state. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the constitutional right to a public defense at the federal and state level and led to a state responsibility to provide that defense. States can and should find 100% funding for indigent defense through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant—or JAG—program.

Anonymous said...

•Disagree: No arrests for Class C misdemeanors (Agree: except when necessary to prevent family violence)

An arrest should be made if the person refuses to sign a written promise to appear (the citation), requests to be taken before a judge and if the person will not provide valid identification, the provided identification cannot be verified or other delineations such as family violence.

A “citation in lieu of arrest” should be a discretionary consideration by the officer for low-level crimes. Citation Release may reduce jail populations and provide local cost savings. Citations divert lower risk offenders from detention, reserving limited city and county jail space and resources for more dangerous offenders. By providing an alternative to pretrial detention and release processes for certain defendants, citation in lieu of arrest can be considered a component of city and county pretrial policies. Instead of an arrest the citation releases the person on the promise to appear in court at a specified date and time.

Gadfly said...

What Hooper said. "Enforcing the platform" was simply a fa├žade that was selectively applied.

Anonymous said...

"It's difficult to reconcile the extremist devotion to the Constitution expressed by so many party loyalists with a legislative priority to "ignore and refuse to enforce" federal laws and Supreme Court rulings on pro-life stuff. Since every Texas elected official takes an oath to uphold and defend the "Constitution and laws of the United States," that clause in the legislative priorities almost screams to elected officials, "You don't have to follow this!""

I don't think it's difficult to reconcile at all. Given some of the historical court rulings and laws that clearly defy or ignore the Constitution.

Yes I know everyone wants examples, so how about "Lochner v. New York", or "Adler v. the Board of Education" for the Supreme Court. I'm pretty sure everyone can come up with examples of laws that have been unconstitutional.

BTW, this post has nothing to do with pro-life. It's not a subject that I'm either entirely for or entirely against.

Heather Buen said...

First time reader here - Why didn't I find you guys sooner??? This post talking about the Rule of 44 and the Texas GOP censure machine is spot on. I have seen the GOP senate district resolutions that were originally sent up and various different senate districts wanted to censure Cornyn, Granger, Burgess and a whole host of others. I think this rule and its use is not going away anytime soon.