Friday, May 15, 2009

Revenge of McLovin: Bills good and bad try to sneak in under deadline

Taps played in the Texas House last night as the clock struck midnight, signaling the death of several thousand bills filed in the lower chamber that didn't make it out by the deadline, at least for this session. (Now, of course, begins the biennial sport of tacking on dead bills to still-moving legislation.)

Looking at the bills that did make it through on the final day, these criminal justice highlights stand out:

Innocence Investigated
HB 498 (McLendon) - Creating an Innocence Commission to investigate false convictions and identify reforms to prevent their recurrence. (See prior Grits coverage.) This bill in 2007 passed the Senate but died in the House, so its prospects look fairly bright headed into the eastern wing of the capitol, where most senators have already voted for it. Earlier in the day, the House concurred with Senate amendments on HB 1736, approving increased compensation for exonerated inmates.

Rethinking the 'Law of Parties'
HB 2267 (Hodge) - Would require severing trials in capital cases involving the law of parties and make the maximum penalty for nonkiller accomplices in capital cases life without parole. (See prior Grits coverage.)

Investing in Human Capital at TDCJ
HB 518 (Kolkhorst) - Would create a student loan repayment program at Sam Houston State for graduates who go to work at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Not as good as a pay hike, but as my father likes to say, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.

As always, there were also a few penalty "enhancements" thrown into the mix:

Cinderella's Last Dance
The last House bill approved by the lower chamber before Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin was HB 1396 by Farrar, increasing penalties for "burglary of a vehicle" to a state jail felony on the second offense. This is an attempt by the House to go back on a deal with the Senate from 2005 that resulted in the current statutory construction (SJF on a third offense with a mandatory incarceration stint in the county jail on a second offense).

If there's one thing I've noticed about such deals at the capitol, it's that deals that satisfy pro-incarceration interests are considered sacrosanct while every deal to limit incarceration is always open to renegotiaton. When discussing state jail felony statutes at the Lege, you'll often hear someone tell you, "Oh, we can't do that, it would go back on the deal we made with prosecutors in 1993." Forget that most of the elected DAs from 1993 are gone now or that deals like this one on burglary of a vehicle can be reneged on two sessions down the line.

As usual, the Legislative Budget Board claims the 24 new prisoners per year and a couple hundred additional probationers will all be free to house and manage, a legislative fiction that allows the bill to pass with no "fiscal note."

Revenge of McLovin
The other remarkable enhancement bill from last night was HB 2411 by Fletcher, which failed on a 90-39 record vote after the chair had already announced its voice-vote approval. The bill would have made it a third degree felony to attempt to use phony documents to get a drivers license, though humorously the bill as it came out of committee would have (erroneously) removed all penalties for that offense. It also made it a third-degree felony to lend your own drivers license or make it available for someone else's use.

Rep. Jim Dunnam came to the back mike to question Fletcher, telling him that his "primary constitutent," his son, it turns out, had called him to say he wanted to keep the language that made it legal to seek an ID under a false name. The reason, he said, was that his teenager wanted to get an ID with the name "McLovin" on it, and this bill as written would allow him to do that. :)

Dunnam was also concerned, he said, about the penalty for making your drivers license available to someone else. He said he was hoping Dan Branch or some other GOP legislator would invite him to visit a country club one day, and he understood you have to give your ID to get a towel, without which he couldn't go to the pool. "My hair doesn't look very good air dried," the Democratic Caucus leader deadpanned. Another rep chimed in that the idea of Rep. Dunnam without a towel brought up "a visual" that disturbed him and suggested a "bracket" for the Waco legislator.

All fun aside, nobody was laughing when, after initially the bill appeared to pass on a voice vote, a record vote was granted and 90 members voted against the legislation. (Okay, maybe there was a small, wry grin on Warren Chisum's face; he seemed to be enjoying the exchange.) Eight others joined the majority in a motion to reconsider and table the bill for good, permanently killing it for the session. (Watch the video here beginning around the 8-hour, 47-minute mark.)


Anonymous said...

Is there a place to go and find all of the bills that have gone through, without having to search all bills on the lege site...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You can go here and click on yesterday's date to see the bills voted on yesterday on the House floor.

Anonymous said...

"On Wednesday, the House passed a bill (unanimously) that would subject those who possess any amount of marijuana in the same place as someone under 18 years of age to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines. HB 3680 now moves to the Senate for debate, which has until June 1 to consider this ill-advised legislation." Marijuana Policy Project, Legislative Alerts.

Anonymous said...

I am astounded as I have watched and listened to our Texas Legislature in "action"? What a farce and a total waste of time and money for us to have to pay for their shenanigans and good times and do nothing for the good of any of us.

I am sorry but not attending Committee Hearings and going to "Exotic" Resturants for dinner and claim it as a meeting, but yet there are no minutes available to read or listen to from that meeting is unacceptable. I also wonder if our elected Representatives actually read the Bills or simply do as done in DC and just vote however they are paid to vote. We simply paid for a good time and more than likely for the fuel and mileage for them to go to Buda, Texas and have a good time.

Each and every two years the Lege meets, they tend to do more harm than good for us, as the people who pay for these fun times they have, don't you ever wonder how so many good bills; bills that would help everyone get left on the Calendar or just totally ignored?

If you do not follow this fiasco every two years, then I invite you to go to the web sites of the House and Senate and view the video/audio meetings and then think about your vote for the same person, the same person who is taking your money and laughing at you behind your back. The Lege only meets every two years and we still pay them and they turn on us and just have a big time party for the few months they are there, I invite you to look at the videos of minutes and form your own opinion and then think about Term Limits and the referandum needed to get this on the ballot!

Anonymous said...

to anon at just now noticed? it's been like that since i can remember.

Anonymous said...

HB 3680: Relating to creating the offense of contributing to the delinquency of a child.

I knew they could "Create" some new "Offenses" if they put their minds to it.

We don't have enough non-violent prisoners in the system... nor enough families torn apart yet to suit the prohibitionists and prohibitionist legislators.

By the way, I think HB 3680 just passed "Unanimously" out of the committee... not the entire house.

Anonymous said...

It did pass the "Full" House of Representatives.

HB 3680 was passed by (Record 810): 140 Yeas, 0 Nays, 1 Present, not

Kerlikowski may think it's "Not a war"... but I think the Texas House of Representatives would disagree.

Anonymous said...

SO, when the majority of people are in jail/prison/on probation, how is it again the government will pay for all of the up keep? or will they create more 'civil' non-punitive laws like putting all grandmothers that drive with turn signals on into a national registry.

I think better will be to add all those kids who wear mini skirts on a registry, for enticing all of the lesbo and old man legislators.

And even better law would be to make it a felony for anyone to attempt to 'remove an upstanding Republican from Office' We could make it a state jail felony, thus keeping all would-be candidates to a smaller pool

W W Woodward said...

"discussing state jail felony statutes "

The Legislature could save a lot of money and reduce TDCJ population considerably if they would just reduce all crimes to misdemeanors and make county sheriffs and commissioners courts worry with what to do with the criminals.

Of course some County judges would just follow what the Dickens County judge would do. Close the jail and auction the building.