Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Smart-on-crime bills waiting for House floor votes

Via email, we learn that the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is worried that several pieces of legislation aimed at reducing Texas inmate populations to stave off more prison building have been bottled up in the House Calendars Committee:
  • H.B. 1706 (Representative Gutierrez): This bill adjusts the financial threshold for a Class B misdemeanor criminal mischief charge to reflect inflation rates.  Counties will likely experience a positive fiscal impact due to savings associated with reduced incarceration costs.  Section 28.03 of the Penal Code delineates the monetary thresholds for a criminal mischief offense.  These threshold amounts have not been adjusted or indexed for inflation since 1993.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, consumer goods with a value of $49 in 1993 are worth $75 today.  Therefore, due to price increases over time, the current penalty grades for criminal mischief offenses may not reflect the present value of the property that has been damaged or lost.  H.B. 1706 amends Section 28.03 to account for the dynamics of inflation by moving the Class B misdemeanor threshold from $50 up to $100.  Ultimately, this bill will reduce the number of people incarcerated for a criminal mischief conviction, thereby easing county jail overcrowding and providing docket relief to county courts.
  • H.B. 3327 (Representative Woolley):   This bill limits liability in negligent hiring actions for employers that hire license holders with criminal records.  The state and local counties will likely experience a positive fiscal impact due to savings associated with greater workforce development and economic reinvestment.  Employers will be more inclined to hire job-seekers with a criminal record if the state eliminates a cause of action for negligent hiring based on knowledge of the employee’s past criminal activity.  H.B. 3327 protects employers who give felons a “second chance” by limiting their liability in negligent hiring actions.  As employment has been shown to be a significant factor in reducing and preventing criminal behavior, creating additional employment opportunities will lower recidivism while encouraging positive life changes that keep people from returning to crime.
  • C.S.H.B. 3107 (Representative Menendez):   This bill provides counties the option to suspend rather than terminate an individual’s medical benefits – such as Social Security Disability Insurance – during a period of confinement in county jail.  The state will likely experience a positive fiscal impact due to savings associated with a more successful re-entry transition. Currently, individuals who are incarcerated in a county jail and who receive medical assistance in the form of Medicaid or Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance may have their benefits terminated.  C.S.H.B. 3107 allows counties to suspend an individual’s medical benefits while he or she is incarcerated.  Specifically, this bill would give authority to the sheriff of a county to notify the United States Social Security Administration of an individual’s release from a county jail in order to have medical benefits reinstated. 
Grits couldn't agree more. The first bill relieves overpopulation pressures on state jails during a period when TDCJ will exceed capacity before the Lege meets again if at least a few bills like this one don't pass.. The second is one of the only bills promoting employment for ex-offenders in a session when post-release job assistance through Project RIO was otherwise completely eliminated. And the third bill, while permissive for the judge, at least gives the option for qualified offenders in the county jail have the feds pay for their healthcare post-release instead of the local emergency room, not only taking financial pressure off both counties and local hospitals but ensuring better continuity of care/medication for mental health patients when they leave confinement. All these address important issues issues that deserve debate and a vote, one way or the other. Grits hopes House Calendars sets them at once.


A Texas PO said...

No, we can't focus on these smart bills because it's sexier to ensure we have guns on college campuses and take cops away from investigating real crimes so they can harass people over their citizenship. And while all this is still going on, I can't help but think that there is this other major bill that hasn't been finalized. Where's our budget, guys?!

Alan said...

This exemplifies Texas' desperate need to come into the modern era and keep a standing legislature. Regardless of your political viewpoint, there's just too much to be done to have a legislature meet only for a few weeks every other year. Even bills with no opposition can't squeeze through the procedural bottlenecks.

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding me? Look at how wonderful our federal government operates! Thank God the Texas Legislature only meets once every two years!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anon 11:51. I DO think though that at least this nod to re-integration for those with a criminal history goes a couple of steps in the right direction. Now to get some other helpful bills passed before they adjourn and it might be one of the better session in the last 20 years.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

ProTex: Network for a Progressive Texas was organized in 1999 in response to a growing need to coordinate the efforts of advocacy organizations seeking systemic change in the Texas criminal justice system, health care system, and taxation system.

One of ProTex's strongest programs was its criminal justice program, then called the Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.