Friday, April 29, 2005

High drama, low profile; an ode to bipartisanship

The agenda for our weekly 7 a.m. ACLU legislative team meeting this morning was jam packed. There are lots of high drama situations playing out right now on a huge array of criminal justice and civil liberties issues at the Texas Legislature, but the bulk are so sensitive, and the politics so complex and fluid, that it wouldn't be prudent to discuss them. Frustrating for me, and likely for readers, too. But it's deal cutting time at the Lege, and it's amazing how interdependent are almost all the issues this blog covers.

This late in the legislative session, every day your bills are still alive is a good day. Here are just a few of the good bills criminal justice reformers are backing that still have legs as April grinds to a close:
  • Probation reform. (Passed Senate committee)
  • Requirement for written consent to search at traffic stops. (Passed Senate, headed to the House.)
  • Racial profiling data repository. (Passed Senate committee, on intent calendar)
  • Marijuana sentence restructuring. (Passed House committee, in Calendars waiting for floor vote.)
  • Discovery by defense counsel of informant deals. (Passed House committee, in Calendars)
  • Barring prosecutors from solciting waivers of counsel from defendants. (Passed House committee, in Calendars)
  • Right to carry a legal weapon in a personal vehicle. (Passed House, in Senate committee)
  • Needle exchange opt-in for local governments (Passed second reading in Senate, on intent calendar)
  • Defense to prosecution for doctor-recommended medical marijuana (Hearing held, awaiting House committee vote)
Meanwhile, compared to prior sessions, only a small handful of bills increasing prison sentences have passed. Most of them have been bottled up in the Senate. No chicken counting yet, but a lot of the issues this blog discusses are at least being taken very seriously at the Lege this time around.

I've gotta tell you, I hear a lot of liberals these days complaining that the Republican majority behaves maliciously and votes in lockstep. But that's not the case on criminal justice reform. I honestly think Texans should be proud of what's happening there, especially of the folks on the main committees handling these topics. With a few exceptions, there isn't a lot of partisanship exhibited in those debates on either side. For the most part, everybody's looking for solutions in good faith, just coming from different perspectives.

Liberals talk a lot about "diversity," but we often don't tolerate well the kind of diversity that really matters -- diversity of opinion. On criminal justice reform, it's often possible for people coming from different ideological places to reach the same conclusions, perhaps for different or at least only partially overlapping reasons. If you're okay with that -- if you can live with somebody voting with you, but not for the REASON you prefer -- and if you're willing to compromise, you can get a lot done at the Texas Lege.

You can't tell Republicans not to be Republicans. But you can ask them to do good things for Republican reasons. Most of them, at bottom, really want to.

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