Friday, April 20, 2007

Lots of criminal justice legislation moving at the Lege

Having begun a review of the week's criminal justice action at the Texas Legislature here and here, let's wind up the analysis with summaries of legislation moving through the process this week:

Not so enhancing
A whole slew of criminal penalty increases, known euphemistically as "enhancements," have passed in various House and Senate committees - particularly House Criminal Jurisprudence and Senate Criminal Justice. I hope someone in the leadership turns off the spigot before all these pass and potentially ruin the already sysiphian efforts to avoid new prison building. More this weekend on the subject of enhancements.

The Governor's database gets committee nod
Kuff has links and updates on HB 13's passage from committee - that's another big homeland security bill from the Governor that includes the TDEX database exposed by the Texas Observer. See prior Grits coverage here and here.

Senate to decide sex offender statutes
HB 8 ("Jessica's Law") and several other sex-offender-related bills (SB 5, which was the Senate version of Jessica's Law, and also SB 78 and SB 1740, see StandDown's coverage) are up on the Senate intent calendar for next week, meaning they can be heard at any time the bill sponsor tells the chair he has the votes. Sen. Bob Deuell is carrying HB 8 in the Senate.

Needle exchange to get Senate floor debate
With Sen. Deuell carrying perhaps THE feel-good penalty enhancement of the session in Jessica's Law, perhaps his fellow senators will find themselves in a mood to support his SB 308, which is also on Monday's intent calendar, allowing local governments and nonprofits to operate needle exchange programs. Texas Monthly messengered around an influential article on the subject last month. This legislation garnered 17 votes on the Senate floor in 2005, three short of the 20 needed at the time. But this year Sen. Deuell, who is a medical doctor, secured the backing of Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson and also Kyle Janek, a Galveston surgeon, neither of whom had supported the bill when Sen. Jon Lindsay carried it in previous sessions. With their support and Dr. Deuell's enthusiastic advocacy on both medical and religious grounds, this bill could pass the Texas Senate next week for the first time ever.

Finally, some actual innocence legislation
After watching the Lege jacking up penalties for the most severe crimes to the most banal, then seeing efforts in the House to remove restrictions on unreliable evidence, I'm glad to see some legislation responding to the rash of DNA based exonerations in Dallas and elsewhere in the state. As Lisa Falkenberg noted recently in the Houston Chronicle, there are almost certainly more cases elsewhere in the state that simply were never discovered. Three bills on the Senate intent calendar would take first steps toward addressing the problem, though wouldn't go as far as I'd like. I described the bills here and their hearing here. Bottom line, SB 263 creates an new Innocence Commission, SB 262 increases restitution to people who are wrongfully convicted, and SB 799 creates an interim study commission to develop best practices for eyewitness identification procedures.

House hears drug courts and stronger probation
Finally looking forward to next week in the House, on Monday HB 530 by Chairman Madden expanding the use of drug courts (discussed here and here) will be heard on the House floor, and Madden's main probation bill HB 1678 (described here) will be heard on Tuesday. Much of HB 1678 was part of legislation vetoed in 2005 by Gov. Perry, but this year a compromise has been reached that will supposedly earn the Governor's support.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Until someone in Austin gets the "GUTS" to rewrite Articles 42.12/42.13 and take the probation chief selection away from the local judges, NOTHING will change. Currently, judges put their "Puppet" into the chief position for their benefit. I've proposed numerous times that the local commissioners courts should handle that duty, not the courts and the judges who think they can do whatever they want in the courtrooms!