Thursday, March 01, 2007

Burka: Criminal Jurisprudence Committee "talent poor"

Paul Burka rightly says that HB 8 should have been better vetted in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. HB 8 will pass, said Texas Monthly's senior political scribe, but:
only after it has received the scrutiny it should have received in committee. Criminal Jurisprudence has every appearance of being a talent-poor committee. This bill was rushed to the floor. Smithee, Hartnett, et al are going to need to keep a close eye on the committee's work for the rest of the session.
Yow! I agree HB 8 (aka "Jessica's Law") needed better vetting, but how harsh is that?

HB 8 passed out of committee identically to the way Rep. Debbie Riddle, who is no criminal law expert, originally filed it. Chairman Peña passed it with barely a quorum present at a desk vote instead of at a regular meeting. The bill was rushed through calendars and its author was unprepared to accept any significant amendments.

Chairman Peña (or for that matter, the 7-2 Democratic majority on the committee) could have required amendments to the bill as a condition of bringing it up, or pended the bill until Riddle worked out amendments with the groups who testified against it. But he and the committee chose to vote for the law without exercising significant oversight. With hindsight, that was an obvious mistake.

Even so, "talent poor" is too derogatory - I'd have gone with "inexperienced and unproven."

I respect Chairman Peña, and I believe his committee has talent and a commitment to do the right thing. But, I thought it was a mistake to bring such a hot button issue up at the committee's first substantive meeting. With a rookie chairman and several new members, I think it would have been better to let the committee get a few less life-or-death bills under its belt before taking on the gravest possible topics.

Indeed, it was hard not to notice Peña's conspicuous absence during the debate over HB 8. He was listed as "absent" on the vote to postpone, but he was in town and attended the (amazing double overtime) UT-Texas A&M basketball game last night.

Still, it's not too late to allow any unspoken concerns lying in the hearts of committee members (even those who voted for the bill, as well as those who didn't attend the quickly called desk meeting) to surface on Monday. To her credit, Rep. Terri Hodge was the only Criminal Jurisprudence committee member to vocally criticize flaws in the bill.

This welcome delay gives the whole House a chance to come up with some amending language that will fix the worst problems with this highly politicized bill. I hope they take it. And I join Burka in hoping this committee's work doesn't have to be done on the House floor on the next controversial topic that comes their way.

See prior Grits coverage related to "Jessica's Law":


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am biased, but I would chalk the rush up to an eagerness to pander to the voters, convincing them that their elected officials are "tough on crime". And they have many related bills remaining this session on which they can preen and posture. So what else is new? This is Texas, after all.

Unknown said...

Why would you call it pandering to the voters when it is us they work for?

Nothing wrong with pleasing your boss with work product that can be polished as it evolves.

Preen and Posture?

That is all rights reserved for the Governor.

But Aaron is going to have to address the issues with the JP Courts and the little ceasars who forget they are to punish by fine only.

Anonymous said...

If the DAs and rape victim advocates are right that HB 8 will cause less reporting of these crimes, it's "pandering" to voters' ignorance, not to their interests.

There is nothing "polished" about this bill. It's pretty much a piece of junk. Democrats should be embarrassed that they let it out of a committee they control and now Smithee and Gattis have to rein it in.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Aaron Pena? When I first met him, he seemed against such noxious forms of legislation, now he seems to be acting like a good old boy. What gives? Maybe he is spending too much time writing his blog instead of thinking about judicious legislation.

Anonymous said...

His head is swollen.