Wednesday, May 27, 2009

'Chubbing' kills innocence bills, and many others, in Texas House

Given that yesterday was a rare weekday when Grits was silent (due to work and familial duties), it was an awfully big news day both in Texas and nationally on the criminal justice front.

I'll post something later about Barack Obama's new US Supreme Court nominee once I know enough about her to have an opinion. SCOTUSBLog is the go-to source on that topic and also on SCOTUS' decision yesterday to overturn Michigan v. Jackson, a case about the right to counsel with significant field implications for how officers interact with suspects.

At the Texas Lege, the news was disappointingly grim. Several key "innocence" bills and other criminal justice reform legislation pending in the House died when the clock tolled midnight last night, though there's a chance some of them can be revived at the last minute as amendments to House bills in the Senate. Basically, partisans were playing a big game of "chicken." No one blinked, so the result was a head-on crash that more or less totaled the 81st legislative session, especially since the House had passed relatively few bills before their final, homestretch run.

That's terribly bad news - an example of badly misplaced priorities by the majority in both parties in the lower chamber. I was frankly disappointed in the whole lot of them for letting this petty matter derail four months of work, leaving issues these bills would have addressed lingering for the next two years. In a state as large as Texas, if the Legislature is only going to meet biennially, I'd like to think legislators understand they have a responsibility to accomplish something when they're in town. (We didn't elect them, after all, to get nothing done.) Instead, everyone is focused on their own re-election or else scoring partisan political points. Voter ID only really interests hard-core partisans on both sides, but of course that's who tends to get elected.

Lots of stuff that really impacts Texans was on the list of now-dead bills in the House, including windstorm insurance and the Department of Insurance Sunset bill. On the issues I follow, the House allowed legislation sitting on its calendar since last week to die on the altar of the voter ID fight which would:
  • Require police departments to maintain written policies following minimum best practices on eyewitness identification procedures.
  • Encourage recording custodial interrogations of suspects by police.
  • Expand access to the courts for habeas writs based on discredited scientific evidence used at trial.
  • Restrict police and DA's ability to request "waivers" in asset forfeiture cases when no criminal or civil case has been filed as was done in Tenaha and elsewhere.
  • Allow big cities to operate needle exchange programs to prevent disease and promote drug treatment.
The Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit told the Legislature that passing eyewitness ID reform should be their highest priority for preventing false convictions, but the House decided that could be put off for two years and voter ID was more important. Thanks, guys.

There's one more day to see if the Senate can amend some of this language onto other bills, but even if they do, it won't mitigate how irresponsible it was to shut down the whole legislative session over voter ID. These folks have some seriously screwed-up priorities.


Robert Langham said...

If I don't have to show ID to vote, then I don't want to show one to get on a plane, cash check, et. In fact, why do I have to have one to drive? Is driving more important than voting?
Seriously stupid stuff. We needed to see some bipartisan compromise on this one.

Robert Langham said...

Big Texas ad campaign going on right now about showing an ID to buy a cigarette including threatening clerks with 500.00 fine if they don't ask. Be nice to have that nonsense ended.
I'm with the dems on this one: No ID for ANYTHING! It's raaaaaacccsit!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Robert, this isn't the place to debate the merits of voter ID. I really don't care one way or another and you've made those arguments before.

Both sides elevated the issue FAR beyond what it deserves. Don't claim proponents are pure of heart - this was a back-alley political knife fight where all participants were afterward left bleeding out in the street. Nobody was right. Nobody won. Everybody lost. The whole thing was pointless and destructive, all the way around.

Soronel Haetir said...

If a few good bills is the price for a legislature not getting anything done I'll gladly pay. Especially when it's an entirely different state :)

Anonymous said...

Being as how I doubt the real reform bills would have passed, I'm not too torn up about this. I'd rather our moron legislators do nothing.
It's ridiculous that Republicans put this so early in the calendar, but Democrats will be blamed for obstructionism. They both played equal parts. Strauss forgets how he got to where he is, it had more to do with Democrats than Republicans.

Robert Langham said...

Scott: You're right. Just frustrated here. I'll take care to stay more on topic but feel free to pull any comment where I stray. I'll get over it.
Thanks for your good work on this blog.

Can't wait to hear what Alice Tripp the TSRA lobbiest has to say about this.

Anonymous said...

Well, the one thing democrats are good at is talking and wasting time rather than debating an issue on its merits.

I was at one time considering joining the democartic party, but they have made an enemy of me for life for this waste of taxpayer money.

I do not understand why democrats will not just debate the issue in a "democratic" fashion. This isn't clever, this is a disdainful act against the citizens of this state.

Common Sense Cop

Anonymous said...

10:14 - If the reason you won't join the Dem Party is because they waste taxpayer money, how do you justify continuing to support any major party? The two major political parties that have been in control of this country are known for wasting time, money and fairly often, their ability to do anything of worth. So, how can you call out one party over the other because of wasting money?

That makes no sense whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Well you're right, all politicians waste money.

However what frustrates me about the democrats in Texas is that they are afraid to debate an issue on its merits and are willing to destroy possibly good legislation due to their apparent inadequacies at oratory (except when it comes to useless chatter).

It just seems that they spend too much time attempting to avoid issues that may be controversial in their own party and are wasting time while they are on the clock.

I know that all politicians waste money, but for the most part I don’t believe that they do it on purpose, they really believe in what they are doing even if it is wrong.

To tell you the truth, I am tired of both parties but I am especially tired of the constant political games that are played instead of actually showing up to work and conducting the business of a statesman (or stateswoman).

It just seems as if the Texas democratic party has a history of political trickery, even to the point where the state police have to arrest them and bring them to the legislative halls….

Anonymous said...

7:58, nobody believes you ever thought about being a Democrat after your rant about their "history." Voter ID was an obvious ploy to chip away at Democratic voters. There is not one single confirmed instance of voter fraud based on a lack of ID. Not one. If you want to cry about a party wasting money, cry about the Republicans who wanted a law to stop something than never happened, at the expense of other legislation, and who wouldn't alter the calendar when it was clear they were going to lose the issue. That's a waste of money, and don't think for a second that Republicans have never used these parliamentary rules to get what they want.

You could at least be intellectually honest in your anonymity.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who complain the Democrats are the ones who stopped Voter ID; I would like to make a suggestion, when the next election comes around, volunteer to be a Poll Worker! Any of you have done this job, know you ask a person if they still live at the address you have listed on the Voter Registration list, which is listed by precinct and you also ask what Precinct they vote in and that also is on their voter card. If they do not have a voter's registration, they have to use their drivers license and if the addresses do not match, a call is made to the County Clerk for verification. If ID cannot be verified, guess what, they do not vote.

That would be a good lesson for any of you to think Democrats stopped Voter ID bill, it takes more than a few Democrats or Republicians and I would suggest you ask your Representative how he/she voted on this and if they were a part of the "chubbing" ploy, I intend to do just that.

Our Legislators work five (5) months in two years and do not attend Committee Meetings scheduled and then meet in secret in a designated room with the meeting being called on the Floor after the fact.

Ask your Senator and Representatives about this also.

Anonymous said...

**Yawn** Is this over yet?