Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Innocence bills are pre-filing highlight so far

Though the session won't actually begin until January, yesterday (Nov. 10) was the first day of pre-filing bills for consideration by the 81st Texas Legislature.

I should add all the usual caveats before pointing out a few interesting highlights - most legislators have yet to file any bills, and most legislation filed, good or bad, won't pass. Moreover, legislation filed early has no greater chance of passing than bills filed later on. Still, pre-filing is our first glimpse of proposed new laws, so with that said, let's examine some criminal justice highlights:

No bills yet from Sen. John Whitmire or Rep. Jerry Madden, both of whom are expected to author significant reform bills this session. But Sen. Rodney Ellis was among the most prolific pre-filers, with 72 bills in the hopper so far including several key innocence-related reforms.
  • SB 115: Creating an Innocence Commission
  • SB 116: Recording interrogations
  • SB 117: Improving eyewitness ID procedures
  • SB 260: Improving reliability of informant testimony
Ellis also filed a resolution granting sex abuse victims in Texas Youth Commission cases permission to sue, see the resolution here (pdf).

Sen. Royce West has a good bill (SB 224), that disallows state licensing agencies from using a prior conviction to refuse licensing if the offender successfully completed deferred adjudication. (I'm hoping we'll see some bills before session is done going even further in that regard.)

Sen. Craig Estes from Wichita Falls has come back with his bid to criminalize salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that's unlikely to ever become popular as a hallucinogen, unless they ban it.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini has a bill (SB 60) mandating the right of an employee to take time off work to attend court proceedings in a case where they are the victim.

Senators Deuell and Van de Putte have once again filed legislation (SB 188) authorizing local governments to establish needle exchange programs. This legislation passed the Senate in 2007 and has a MUCH greater chance of becoming law now that Diane Delisi, who chaired the House Public Health Committee and was a bitter opponent of the idea, has retired from public office. (A pilot program in San Antonio Delisi did approve was derailed by the District Attorney.)

I'll examine more pre-filed criminal justice-related bills as a regular feature on Grits in the next few weeks, plus pay specific attention to the most important ones above - particularly the innocence-related bills - as the legislative session approaches.

See the Texas capitol website for more bill-related information.


Anonymous said...

Scott, I found the following quote from Professor Robert Dawson, that makes a really strong case for all of the innocence related bills filed.
According to DR.Dawson,“the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has 150,000 inmates incarcerated. If the Texas justice system is 99 percent accurate, there are 1,500 innocent people in prison. And if the system is 99.9 percent accurate, that’s still 150 innocent people in prison. That is both a reassuring and depressing thought”.

Now, we all know that our criminal justice system is far from being accurate so Just imagine how many innocent people are sitting behind bars today.


Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

I'm encouraged to see the bills filed by Senator Ellis, especially SB 116, the text of which I was able to open and read. Recording of interrogation of suspects could eliminate coerced testimony. I couldn't open the text of SB260 "Improving reliability of informant testimony." There should be some way of determining whether the state has provided incentives for informant testimony, and providing that defense has a right to make known to the jury that incentive(s) has/have been provided and what the incentive(s) was/were.