Monday, November 30, 2009

House releases 'interim charges': What criminal justice topics on the agenda?

Speaker Joe Straus last week issued the "Interim Charges" for standing committees in the Texas House. Since the Texas Lege meets only 140 days every two years, in the interim committees study lingering problems or emerging issues with an eye toward developing legislation in the next session. So issues studied in interim charges tend to have a tad more momentum once session starts - particularly early in the session - than bills that weren't part of that process. The committees also hold oversight hearings during the interim that tend to generate a lot of information about the agencies under each committee's purview.

Here's the full list (pdf) of interim charges and below are the criminal-justice related issues among them I identified (duplicates deleted where committees have joint charges):

10. Examine annual cost increases and the factors related to the increases for Correctional Managed Health Care. Recommend policy changes that could yield savings to the state.

14. Monitor and review the disbursement and use of border and homeland security funds. Evaluate the effectiveness in meeting the state's border and homeland security program goals and objectives. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Defense and Veterans' Affairs

Border and Intergovernmental Affairs

1. Evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas-Mexico border. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Public Safety


1. Examine implementation of the diversion pilot programs, juvenile case management system, and other policy and funding initiatives to determine whether the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas Youth Commission have adhered to legislative directive in implementing these programs, and the impact of these programs on commitments at the Texas Youth Commission. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Appropriations

2. Study and evaluate the availability and efficiency of community-based corrections supervision and treatment programs and their impact on prison capacity and recidivism rates. Determine whether the supervision and treatment programs have been designed in accordance with evidence-based practices and whether adequate evaluation methods have been incorporated.

3. Study current re-entry programs and procedures across the juvenile and adult criminal justice continuum. Make recommendations to ensure that offenders who are released or discharged have the necessary supervision and access to employment, housing, treatment, and other support programs to allow successful entry and integration into the community. Evaluate the working relationship between state agencies facilitating re-entry and make recommendations on how to achieve greater efficiency and cost savings.

4. Examine policies and programs designed to identify, divert, and enhance the supervision and treatment of special needs offenders within local jails and state correctional facilities. Recommend changes to address appropriate alternatives to incarceration or institutionalization.

5. Review the range of services provided to females in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and recommend changes to ensure responsiveness to gender-specific issues. Review should include institutional and community supervision programs and utilization of correctional facilities that house nonadjudicated populations.

County Affairs

3. Study county oversight related to pretrial release on bond in criminal cases.

Criminal Jurisprudence

1. Examine the deferred adjudication system in Texas and recommend legislative changes.

2. Study how the state presently supports the establishment and maintenance of public defender offices.

3. Study the human and sex trafficking problem in Texas. Make recommendations on best practices in the areas of investigation, prosecution, and tracking of the victims of these crimes. Study whether victims of these crimes are allowed to adequately recover from their attackers in a civil cause of action. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence

4. Monitor the implementation of SB 1940 (81R), which established veterans court programs in Texas, and examine the link between combat stress disorders of war veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and the onset of criminal behavior. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Defense and Veterans' Affairs

Public Safety

1. Study the recruitment and retention practices that the Department of Public Safety currently employs and make recommendations on how to make improvements. Specifically, examine the current officer shortage in Texas and the effect it is having on the state's public safety.

2. Investigate best practices to process concealed hand gun licenses in order to alleviate backlog and make recommendations for implementation, if appropriate.

3. Monitor the Driver Responsibility Program and consider methods for overall improvement of the program.

4. Study the statutory definition, duties, and authority of a Texas peace officer.
Several items here stand out. For starters, it's interesting to me that Appropriations will independently investigate prison health care costs. That indicates that, as state cost drivers go, prison health has made it fully onto state leaders' radar screens. Texas spends nearly $1 billion per biennium on prison health care, and costs are increasing largely as a function of long sentences and an aging prisoner population - inmates age 55 and older consume healthcare services at three times the rate of their younger counterparts.

One also notices that the Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee's top issue this go-round is evaluating state border security efforts, whereas last time the first item on their list was "Study the establishment of a citizen trade policy commission and an office of trade development." That's a notable shift in priorities.

The Corrections Committee's plate is full with many issues regularly covered on this blog. By contrast, aside from its charge to investigate deferred adjudication and the narrow issue of veterans courts, the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee's load seems relatively light, avoiding topics regarding overcriminalization and innocence-related issues that I'd have liked to see them take on.

A sleeper on the list may be the County Affairs charge on pretrial bonds. Increased pretrial detention rates are the main cause of county jail overcrowding in Texas and analyzing "county oversight" of the process is a sticky question because so many players are involved.

I'm also glad to see the Public Safety Committee take on the Driver Responsibility Surcharge. We've been waiting for months now for DPS to issue new rules governing the surcharge but nothing has come out yet in the Texas Register. (CORRECTION: An attentive commenter supplied the text of the new rule which was filed with the Secretary of State Nov. 23. More to come on this development.) And though the topic sounds dry, the issues surrounding definitions of a police officer potentially could make for a lively debate in Tommy Merritt's committee.

Finally, though not directly related to criminal justice, as a blogger I feel obligated to point out this odd charge for the General Investigating and Ethics Committee:
2. Review the definition of "political advertising" and determine whether the definition should be expanded to include content contained in blogs and other types of Internet communications.
I don't know what that's about but the discussion will bear watching.


Adrenolize said...

I for one would like to see a committee address the DPS barracks problems that have been all over the news. That has been an issue since 2000, and now that the barracks over there are completely shut down, there is talk about canceling all of 2010 recruit classes. That is another problem fanning the flames of the officer shortage in Texas.

Raphael Hythloday said...

New rule for the driver responsibility program:

Texas Register

RULE §15.163 Amnesty, Incentive and Indigency Programs
ISSUE 12/04/2009
ACTION Final/Adopted
Preamble Texas Admin Code Rule


(a)The department may provide for amnesty, incentive and indigency programs under the Driver Responsibility Program.

(b)The Amnesty Program will consist of an agreement made between the department and an individual to reduce a surcharge assessment based upon compliance with the law. The Amnesty Program will apply to surcharges for Failure to Maintain Insurance and Driving Without a Valid License.

(1)For a No Insurance surcharge, the assessment may be reduced to 75% of the initial assessment if the individual provides proof of insurance satisfactory to the department.

(A)The individual will be required to maintain liability insurance for the term of the surcharge assessment to qualify for the reduction each year.

(B)The individual will be required to present proof of insurance at the time of payment. If the individual enters an installment agreement, proof of insurance must be presented with each payment made to the department.

(C)Proof of insurance submitted by the individual may be verified by the department through the Financial Responsibility Verification program. Proof of insurance which cannot be verified may no longer be considered valid.

(D)If the individual fails to comply with subparagraphs (A) and (B) or defaults on the payment plan during the reduced assessment period, the amnesty provision will be voided and the full assessment will be applied.

(2)For a Driving Without a Valid License surcharge, the assessment may be reduced to 75% of the initial assessment if the individual obtains the appropriate driver license for the type of vehicle for which the offense was issued.

(A)The individual will be required to maintain a valid driver license for the term of the surcharge assessment to qualify for the reduction each year.

(B)If the individual fails to maintain a valid driver license as required or defaults on the payment plan during the reduced assessment period, the amnesty provision will be voided and the full assessment amount will be applied.

(c)The Incentive Program will consist of an agreement made between the department and an individual to reduce surcharge assessments based upon compliance with the surcharge program. The Incentive Program will apply to surcharges for Points, Intoxication and Driving While License Invalid.

(1)At the annual review for a second surcharge assessment, if the driver record reflects no additional convictions subject to the Driver Responsibility Program, the second surcharge assessment will be reduced to 90% of the full assessment.

(2)At the annual review for a third surcharge assessment, if the driver record reflects no additional convictions subject to the Driver Responsibility Program, the third surcharge assessment will be reduced to 80% of the full assessment.

This agency hereby certifies that the adoption has been reviewed by legal counsel and found to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on November 23, 2009

Stuart Platt

General Counsel

Texas Department of Public Safety

Effective date: December 13, 2009

Proposal publication date: August 7, 2009

For further information, please call: (512) 424-5848

Anonymous said...

The first charge on the criminal jurisprudence list is to 'examine the deferred adjudication system in Texas and recommend legislative changes'. This was a top charge last session, and the committees on both the Senate and House debated for hours-with absolutely no new law passed! In order to be eligible for deferred adjudication, the defendant is required to plea guilty or no contest. FYI- deferred adjudications are supposed to be a second chance to offenders, because-if the terms of supervision are completed by the defendant, the charge is dismissed, and no formal conviction occurs. But, the record of arrest remains, along with the court's actions-and this poses a huge problem in many areas, even years after the original incident. People are denied occupational licenses, housing, have difficulty obtaining respectable employment, and the list goes on. There are those with Orders of Nondisclosure, where they have the incident 'sealed' from public view, and may legally deny the very existence of the offense-unless under oath in a future criminal proceeding. But, many licensing agencies have access to these, and on some license applications, 'investigations' are opened if one does not 'admit' the past offense. This violates the spirit of the Order of Nondisclosure statute, but some of these agencies require full disclosure. There are so many inconsistencies with all the various laws, as some licensing agencies consider a dismissed deferred adjudication as a 'conviction'. This is contrary to the agreement signed by the defendant in court, as any successfully completed supervision, is not deemed a conviction, and the charge is dismissed. Yes, the legislators need to revisit this issue, and allow for expunction of any past offense (after a certain time period). Also, background checks must only be applicable/allowable for a certain period of time prior to the offense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks for the DRP info, Raphael! I guess I should have checked the
Register last week! I'll compare this to the Sunset bill and what they'd proposed back in August and see what the changes are.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Adrenolize, can you be more specific about the "barracks problems"? I'm not sure I understand the reference.

Raphael Hythloday said...

Regarding the Training Academy: From a DPS press release:

November 23, 2009
DPS closes Training Academy dormitories

Citing a concern for the safety of residents of the DPS Training Academy, members of the Texas Public Safety Commission voted unanimously Thursday to immediately close the two aging dormitories, which were built in 1955 and 1972. All students will be moved to a nearby motel for the immediate future.

“We take the safety of our employees and students seriously and will do what we must do to provide them with a secure, safe sleeping environment,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Inspections of the facility by the State Fire Marshal’s Office for the past eight years have noted the deficiencies, but most of the recommendations have not been implemented because of funding constraints.

Improvements to bring the buildings up to Life Safety Code for fire safety—includes a fire alarm and sprinkler system, a fire suppression system for the cafeteria and enclosing stairwells—would likely cost several million dollars. Compounding these issues, the high concentration of calcium in the buildings’ pipes over the years has caused the flow of hot water to almost cease. Repairing this critical infrastructure issue will require considerable funding to abate.

The DPS dormitory houses students in the recruit school, as well as other DPS employees who travel from across the state to attend training classes or other meetings in Austin. The dormitory can house up to 417 people and includes a cafeteria where meals are served.

### (PIO 2009-85)


Apparently, there is a $4 million price tag on repairs to the Academy. DPSOA has minutes to the last commission meeting here:

Paul Walcutt said...

I would love to add that the Legislature try to pass the same Expunction amendments that unanimously passed both houses in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Define a peace officer? There should be a graduated scale of authority based on the population level in their jurisdiction.

Anonymous said...

The first and formost item is reviewing what the legislature tasked TYC and TJPC with and see if it has been completed. TYC diversionary funding should be examined very closely, especially the funding foumulas in place. Many counties got the shaft now TJPC wants to take money(2.28)M away from the county usage and put it into a mental health SCREENING assessment that duplicates what services are already being provided locally. Waste of money or should I say misappropriated funds???

Anonymous said...

I agree. TYC and TJPC are up for another Sunset review. The best thing that could happen is create the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Current administration at TJPC just does not care about the counties anymore. Arrogance abounds there.

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