Friday, May 13, 2005

Tulia to Hearne

This editorial from the Waco Herald Tribune connects all the dots:
This week a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of seven defendants was settled by Robertson County, ending an episode that has proved to be a community's shame.

As was the case in the Panhandle town of Tulia, the word of an unreliable informant was used to arrest blacks in a sting based on bogus evidence.

These incidents have shed light on a monstrosity called the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program which awards drug task forces money based on how many people they haul in. Indeed, it amounts to a de facto quota system.

The Bush administration, to its credit, has nearly zeroed-out the $600 million program in its current budget.

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers have addressed another menace, the regional task forces behind such overzealous enforcement, in this case the seven-county AgriPlex Drug Task Force.

A few days ago the Texas House voted to abolish the state's regional drug task forces.
Today, HB 1239, which as originally passed out of the House would have abolished drug task forces in their current form, was assigned to a conference committee, having successfully passed out of the Senate. Given that bill-sponsor and conference committee Chair Terri Hodge's attentions are justifiably elsewhere for the moment, there's no telling how quickly an agreement might be reached. The House and Senate bills are quite different, since the Senate substituted a completely new version that Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa negotiated with the Governor. That revised legislation disappointingly allows Byrne-grant funded drug task forces to continue functioning, but it also tightens up the statutory authority of the Texas Department of Public Safety to exercise meaningful oversight over these rogue entities. The old version, word had it, was veto bait. Stay tuned to see what the conference committee comes up with.

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