Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Criminal justice action on bill filing day at Texas Lege

Bill filing at the Texas Lege began yesterday for the 83rd session and the Texas Tribune listed these criminal-justice related bills filed on the first day:
  • Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, filed three bills that would focus on helping victims of human trafficking.
  • HB 21, by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, would create a database of individuals with multiple family violence crimes.
  • HB 23, by Martinez Fischer, would require sex offenders to list their offenses on social media sites.
  • HB 104, by Rep. Larry Gonzales, would repeal the Driver Responsibility Act, which requires drivers to pay expensive annual surcharges for certain traffic violations. Failing to pay results in suspension of a driver's license.
  • SB 88, by Ellis, would allow the governor to grant more than one 30-day reprieve for a death row inmate.
  • SB 89, by Ellis, would create a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions
  • SB 91, also by Ellis, would require prosecutors and defense lawyers to share evidence in criminal cases
So in the House, we've got two of the more liberal members of the Legislature filing enhancement bills, and a conservative pushing to abolish the Driver Responsibility Act. Typical. Re: HB 23, if they're going to do that, I'd like an amendment to say legislators must attach a list of interested donors and how they'd benefit to bills they support. (In all seriousness, that's an ugly, slippery slope.) The family violence registry is as silly and unnecessary as an arson registry. Ellis' bills are repeats. SB 88 seeks to give Gov. Perry power he'd never use. SB 90 has been a major bone of contention  and in the past has earned support and opposition from factions of both prosecutors and the defense bar.

Ellis' innocence commission bill IMO is a bit of an anachronism and efforts in Texas to exonerate innocent folk from prison have arguably moved beyond it. Grits would rather see the state boost funding to innocence clinics at the state's largest law schools if it's going to invest in the task of investigating old innocence cases. (In the interest of full disclosure, my day job is with the Innocence Project of Texas, whose policy stance happily coincides with my own.) The innocence commission was a suggested tactic from the past, but where they were created they never did much and Texas has developed its own mechanisms - somewhat organically, though spurred and partially funded by the Legislature - for pursuing cold innocence cases through the law schools and a network of private attorneys. The investigation into old arson cases currently underway shows more promise as a model for how to vet old innocence claims than any "innocence commission" created anywhere in the country. At this historical juncture, the state should build on its own successes on this score rather than seek to copy what somebody else has done.

These weren't the only criminal justice related bills. On the House side (see all filed bills), Martinez-Fischer has a bill to create "an executive commissioner for the prevention of driving while intoxicated." His HB 27 would make cell phone use while driving illegal except for law enforcement and emergency vehicles. Allen Fletcher has an enhancement for leaving the scene of an auto accident that results in death. He also filed a bill exempting drivers' contact information on traffic tickets from the Public Information Act, a suggestion with all sorts of unintended consequences which IMO make it a very bad idea. (More later.) Rep. Menendez has a prostitution enhancement and another one for graffiti. And he's filed an interesting little bill requiring suspension of Medicaid eligibility for jail inmates bur also mandating their reinstatement upon release. (I'd need to know more about what problem this aims to solve to form an opinion.) Senfronia Thompson has a bill related to diversion programs for juveniles accused of prostitution. Lois Kolkhorst has a bill banning the use of RFID tags to track kids in school. David Simpson has refiled his bill to limit intrusive searches in airports. Richard Raymond filed a manslaughter enhancement for DWI, and a perhaps quixotic bill to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals.

On the Senate side (see the full list of filed bills), I like state Sen. Dan Patrick's idea to eliminate straight ticket voting in judicial races. I'd personally like to make them entirely nonpartisan, like city council seats. And Sen. Ellis has a bill expanding access to probation for low-level drug offenders, including a court-fee based funding source for treatment programming. Though not exactly a criminal justice bill (the drug war prosecuted by other means), SB 11 would require welfare recipients to pass a drug test to receive support.

For betting purposes, Grits would put the over-under on new crimes and penalty enhancements the Lege will pass at 53. As an added prediction: Despite having just more than a third of House seats, most enhancements that pass will be filed by Democrats and most of them will originate in the House. I don't know why, but judging from years past that seems to be the trend.

Obviously, these are only filed bills listed above, and as my father likes to say, there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Likely there will be some 7,000 or so pieces of legislation filed before the session is through, with perhaps 1,000 of them in some way shape or form (often quite different from how they began) eventually becoming law. I've only provided cursory summaries here, so please check out the bills that particularly interest you and provide your own analyses in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I've long believed Dan Patrick to be the main enemy of constitutional freedom in this country, and believed him an idiot as well. But Patrick's idea to eliminate straight ticket voting in judicial races proves he's not as stupid as I originally thought.

He has tremendous foresight and realizes that in a few years the electorate in Harris county will be voting democrat, and unless his useless son changes parties or professions, he'll be voted out of his judgeship. Patrick, you see, always has an ulterior motive....

Anonymous said...

Grits, you're right on the money on the need for non-partisan elections in judicial races. There is absolutely no need or justification for judges--who ideally need to be fair and impartial--to have to publically affiliate with a political party. There have been many good judges--both Republican and Democrat--who have been removed from office simply because they happened to be associated with the wrong political party when the political winds have started blowing from the opposite direction. Frankly, there's no reason for the DA's to have to be partisan either. Patrick's bill is a good start but it probably should go even further.

Richard Boland said...

Looks to me like Ellis's SB 91 will have the effect of ELIMINATING attorney-client privilege for criminal defendants.

Brad Walters said...

On the criminal discovery, I would like to see requirements that law enforcement retain and turnover all video and recordings related to substantiation of reasonable suspicion and PC for an arrest and of course if they tend to be exculpatory or impeach the arresting officer statements. Getting law enforcement to turn over video, not lose it or delete it, or not claim bogus malfunctions with no repair or service records is like pulling teeth when there is an exclusionary issue. And willful ignorance by ADA'S about the existence of video and failure to even ask for it from agencies that they know have video is a situation that has to stop. Some defendants don't have representation for some time...often 2 or 3 resets which is time for evidence to be "routinely deleted if not requested" instead of routinely and in compliance with Brady sending it to the prosecutor for disclosure to the defense or use in the prosecution if it helps their case. It seems that old dispatch recordings are frequently available when the prosecutor wants them after 30 days, but no such luck for the defense. I think that bill is a good start, but needs some beefing up to protect against "inadvertant losses" and "routine" destruction of material evidence by law enforcement when it suits their purpose of avoiding the exclusionary rule.

Brad Walters said...

Regarding elimination of straight ticket voting in judicial races...let's go even further. Don't put any name or party affiliation of a candidate on the ballot. Treat them all like write in candidates. What compelling interest does the state have in suggesting to us whom we should vote for. Voters should decide before entering the polls what their choices will be. They can bring their party slate in with them if they wish. They can write down their choice for each race and bring it with them or take the slates of campaigners outside of the polling area. The state however should not be putting names on a ballot for us to choose from. That amounts in many cases to an illegal campaign contribution and a free advertisement at the taxpayer expense. Our present system only serves to protect special interests who want to maintain the status quo.

Anonymous said...

SB89 is not the equivalent of innocence projects that screen and represent defendants in claims of innocence. SB89 aims at a high level systems oriented review of cases in which innocence has been demonstrated, to identify root causes of wrongful convictions, and to come up with ways that the criminal justice system in Texas can be changed to prevent them going forward. Seems like a good idea to me.

Prison Doc said...

Enhancements...it's like a bad dream. I wish we could make all enhancements go away.

Anonymous said...

You said:
HB 21, by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, would create a database of individuals with multiple family violence crimes.

I guess you couldn't bring yourself to say "offenders," so you said "individuals." Since you couldn't say "committed," you said "with." I'll give you this, you are 100% politically correct.

Compare the statement about HB 21 below with how you put it (above) and we can see the constant distortion:

Relating to a central database containing information about offenders who have committed certain offenses against children or offenses involving family or dating violence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:50, before you get yourself all worked up (oh well, too late), please notice that the description of HB 21 you're complaining about was not mine but quoted verbatim from the Texas Tribune. Anyway, I linked to the bill so readers can see for themselves exactly what it does.