Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good Bills Dead and Living

Just five days left in the 80th Texas Legislature - at this time of year it's routine to watch public policy proposals people have worked on for months or years stall out in a matter of moments, and that includes some of the positive legislation I've been tracking on Grits.

With the Texas House having finished its final day for hearing Senate bills, I was disappointed to see several bills I support failing to make it onto the floor, which means at this point they're pretty much dead unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of their hat (i.e., unless they're added as third reading amendents to other bills, which requires 100 votes):

Treatment instead of incarceration: SB 1909 by Ellis - Texas' scaled back version of California's Prop 36. This bill was on the House calendar yesterday but they did not make it that far down the list.

Parole Reform: HB 838 by Whitmire also died yesterday waiting to be heard on the House calendar - this bill would have reduced technical revocations to prison and increased use of intermediate sanctions facilities.

Innocence Bills: The House also didn't get to a bill expanding compensation for wrongfully convicted people, which I'd hoped could be amended to include the Innocence Commission bill that died ignominiously last week in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. A failed effort to add the Innocence Commission to a Senate bill was killed by Sen. Dan Patrick for reasons that utterly escape me.

The death of this legislation marks a huge disappointment, but in retrospect it's pretty astonishing the bills got this far in a state most people think of as reactionary and prison-obsessed. If they'd made it to the House floor, by my count all of the above bills would have passed, which means in 2009 it should be a bit easier to come back for another bite at the apple.

Meanwhile, many good bills still had legs yesterday, including TDCJ's Sunset bill, SB 909, which made it through the process. The central repository for racial profiling data approved by the Senate (it didn't make it onto the final House calendar) was added as an amendment to HB 13, the Governor's homeland security bill which was loaded up like a Christmas tree and will inevitably have a conference committee that decides if it stays on. (The El Paso Times reports that the Senate agreed to re-up the Governor's homeland security pork barrel funding for the bill, to a tune of a whopping $100 million.)

It's still too early to assess the session's overal impact on criminal justice policy - a lot of enhancements and several bad bills also passed, the Senate and conference committees still have work to do, and the Governor's veto pen could still thwart necessary reforms.


Anonymous said...

Rep. Thompson managed to get SB 167 and 262 amended on SB 1719, Ellis's compensation for persons wrongfully imprisoned.

Anonymous said...

It is pathetic that new comers like Senator Patrick can kill bills such as Senator Ellis' on the Innocence Commission. Patrick's legislative experience is what ? Senate member ,2007-present! No judicial background ,nada, silch ! His biggest claim to fame was to discover Rush Limbaugh, now there is a national treasure!Appearances on the O'Reilly factor and the Hannity and Colmes shows are also part of his resume . Who elects these Legislators ? Watching his and Senator Whitmire's exchange on the Senate floor was a sight to see( I don't blame Whitmire ).
Sorry , had to vent ,I'm from Dallas the home of the many vindicated Innocents and more to come !