Monday, April 09, 2007

Smaller bills dominate Tuesday's Criminal Jurisprudence agenda

I've been somewhat critical of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee's work so far, particularly for failing to vet bills affecting the same code and passing unnecessary penalty "enhancements" the state can't afford. (Chairman Aaron Peña, to his credit, responded to some of those criticisms last week.) This week's agenda appears less ambitious, both in the good and bad bills proposed, but I still thought I'd run through the highlights leading up to tomorrow's hearing.

Theft by check reforms
A couple of bills with possibilities are up addressing the crime of check forgery. Rep. Madden's HB 1611 would scale the crime to the theft statutes, allowing small checks to be charged only as a Class C misdemeanor, while the same crime involving more than $200,000 would be a first degree felony. At first blush I think that's a good idea. Since in bigger forgery cases prosecutors were already charging the theft statutes anyway, that wouldn't be a big deal to me so long as they were forbidden from charging both this crime and theft for the same act - what he's doing enhancing the high end should replace those piled on charges, while making punishments less onerous in smaller cases.

Meanwhile, I'm curious as to readers' opinions about HB 485 by Van Arsdale - it would allow officers to accept restitution payment when executing a warrant for theft by check. I guess that's fine, though there may be unintended consequences I'm not seeing of making police a straight up debt collector in that fashion. But if we're going to do it, I'd prefer to see the law set up where charges are dismissed if restitution is made in that fashion. Otherwise taxpayers are just financing debt collection without any benefit in a more efficient, lessed clogged court system. The current bill doesn't do that, but it would be a more attractive piece of legislation to me if it did.

Anti-Innocence Legislation
While a subcommittee of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will consider what I've called "innocence bills" tomorrow, this House panel will consider HB 1035 by Riddle which can only be described as anti-innocence legislation. It would expand the use of hearsay evidence in two ways, first adding "criminal attempt" to the list of offenses where hearsay may be used (when someone "does an act amounting to more than mere preparation that tends but fails to effect the commission of the offense intended"), and raising the age where hearsay can be used from 12 or under to under 14 (because we all know 13 year olds would never lie).

This bill invites false testimony that cannot be cross examined, and expands the use of hearsay testimony to imply intent regarding offenses that were never even committed.

Pretrial mediation: Why just for Bexar County?
Rep. McLendon has a good bill, HB 2750, that's bracketed only to Bexar County, that would establish a pretrial victim-offender mediation program for low-level offenders. It's a good idea, and if it works in Bexar I think should be applied to all of Texas' larger counties, say 200,000 and up.

Dumbest bill of the year candidate: Fees for collecting fees:
The highlight of the agenda to me, though (which in itself I fear is strong evidence of schadenfreude), is the appearance of what with all due respect has got to be the silliest, most ridiculous bill I've seen all session - a moment when the legislative process turns into a pure parody of itself: I'm speaking of HB 3858 by Gonzales Tourreilles, which would actually allow counties to collect a $50 court fee to cover costs related to the collection of fees!

In what other area of government would this be tolerated? Next will we have a separate tax to pay for the cost of collecting property taxes? How about an extra penny (perhaps split with the vendor) to pay for collecting the sales tax?

If I saw that on a bank statement I'd change banks!

The Representative from Alice has identified a serious problem - court fees in Texas are out of control - but nobody has the cojones to propose the real solution, which is to get rid of the damn fees and properly fund the courts. Taxing us to pay for taxing us isn't the answer.

Quite a few other bills on tomorrow's agenda may interest some readers including legislation related taking blood specimens from DWI suspects and restricting deferred adjudications for DWI, and a couple of penalty enhancements by Rep. Talton. Rep. Hochberg has a bill making the requirements for listing in the criminal street gang database slightly more rigorous. And Rep. Gallego has a bill that would be a significant change - though I don't understand its implications - in what jurors are told about insanity pleas. Those interested should take a closer look.


Anonymous said...

Here we go again - give a new program to Bexar County and watch it get all messed up??? I quess they figure start in Bexar if the idea can make it there it can make it anywhere.

Anonymous said...

On restitution - - Will peace officers be required to carry change? Credit card slips? How is this supposed to work; please don't tell me that they are expected to take a check from a hot check writer...

Anonymous said...

Drawing blood is a medical procedure and who is going to teach policemen how to do this correctly? This is ridiculous and this bill should be thrown in the trash.

I spent 4 years learning how to draw blood and worked in the health care field for 36 years and I have a degree behind my name that proves I can draw blood. Maybe you can hire RNs to draw the blood then you would not be putting police officers under that stress. Honestly, are any of you awake there?

Look at the potential for law suits in allowing policemen to draw blood, the infections, going through the vein, there are so many complications with this procedure and if I were a policeman or DPS, I would refuse to do this. You need an anatomy and physiology course to know where the veins are and some people have veins so small they are very hard to stick and even a finger stick should be done by a medical professional. What have you been drinking?