Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Committees begin to hear criminal justice bills

Texas legislative committees are finally beginning to consider bills, with the first criminal-justice related legislation up for hearings today and tomorrow.

This morning at 8:30 a.m., the House Insurance Committee will hear HB 361 by Anchia which would expand the ability of exonerees to purchase health insurance at state rates to their spouses and dependent children. Anyone with a family knows that having everyone covered under the same insurance policy makes lots of sense, and since exonerees are paying for the insurance out of their own pockets, there would be no fiscal impact. This is a small bill, but it's surely important to exonerees, a couple of whom I believe are coming to town to testify.

Later on, at 10:30 a.m. or after the full House adjourns, the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will consider legislation for the the first time, though only three bills are up in their first session.

HB 61 by Guillen is an enhancement for arson, boosting penalties from a second to a first degree felony for setting fire to an agricultural facility or a state park. Readers already know how I feel about enhancements: If the prospect of a second degree felony won't deter someone, changing it to a higher penalty - that most offenders will never know was altered until they're charged - won't increase that deterrence. The bill's  "fiscal note" was deemed insignificant, though that's not really true. With prisoner health costs alone at more than $9 per day, any extra inmates incarcerated for longer stretches will cost the state more money in the long run.

HB 153 by Taylor alters definitions in the law banning sale of firearms to intoxicated persons, deleting a more general definition and adopting the same one used for drunk drivers, including a BAC level of .08. The change seems mostly nonsubstantive, though it slightly broadens the scope of firearm sale prohibition. It's unclear to me how gun sellers are supposed to know if someone's BAC is at .07 vs. .09.

HB 70 by Fletcher is perhaps the most substantive of the three, changing what attorneys refer to as "The Rule" to allow one, designated prosecution witness who may be in the courtroom while others testify. Traditionally, witnesses aren't supposed to be in the room so their testimony won't be tainted by what they hear from others. If the designated witness getting to attend the hearing is a police officer, that person would be forbidden from wearing their uniform in court. The defense side, of course, would not be afforded the same privilege. Houston defense attorney Paul Kennedy last session argued that the bill is "a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. The only purpose is to make it easier for the state to obtain convictions."

Tomorrow, the House Corrections Committee will hear bills for the first time. They too have just three bills on the agenda.

HB 144 by Raymond expands the scope of "mental examinations" of juvenile offenders to include diagnosing substance abuse.

HB 431 by Riddle (which seems like it ought to have a fiscal note, though as of this writing one hasn't been posted) would expand the categories of offenders ineligible for release under "mandatory supervision," a category which only includes offenders convicted many years ago before the Lege modified "mandatory supervision" to become (oxymoronically) "discretionary mandatory supervision" if the offense involved a child victim. That's already the case for the most serious offenses. Riddle's bill would expand the prohibition to second and third degree felonies, forcing TDCJ to incarcerate those individuals longer. Hard to see how that wouldn't have a budget impact.

HB 634 by Farias would require TDCJ to verify inmates' veteran status via lists held by the Health and Human Services Commission and assist them (presumably upon reentry) with applying for benefits for which they may be eligible from the federal Department of Veteran Affairs. The fiscal note says there would be one-time automation costs to perform this function but suggests the duties could be absorbed in the agency's current budget.

And of course I'd already mentioned that the House Transportation Committee today will consider bills related to banning texting and/or talking on a cell phone while driving.

The game is afoot!


Unknown said...

HB 634 by Farias - It would be interesting to know how many veterans we have locked up? How many would need this service? If these people were smart enough to become a veteran and were discharged with good conduct, why can't they do this themselves.

"The fiscal note says there would be one-time automation costs to perform this function but suggests the duties could be absorbed in the agency's current budget." This is code for we are going to pass a requirement asking TDCJ to preform extra functions BUT, we are not going to allot any funds for it.

Anonymous said...


It is normal practice in federal courts to have the "case agent" - the lead investigator in a case that knows in the ins and outs of the case generally in much greater detail than the prosecuting attorney - to sit at the prosecution's table. It doesn't seem to cause problems and I assume, though I haven't seen it, that a defense investigator could arrange to do the same with their own investigator (though that knnowledge is above my pay grade).

DEWEY said...

" It's unclear to me how gun sellers are supposed to know if someone's BAC is at .07 vs. .09."
Simple. Use the Houston "B.A.T." vans. (Remember the hoopla about the accuracy a wile back?)

Phillip Baker said...

Sorry, 11:29, but your information seems a bit flawed. It'a not all that hard to join the military, especially in these rough economic times. And the military has drawn many members from those places like Detroit where poverty is endemic, jobs are few, and the military seems a way out. But after serving, navigating the bizarre tangle of rules by 12 different Fed agencies to access benefits is very difficult, even for very smart people. The military and VA admit this is a major problem, yet their efforts to fix this has seen mixed results at best.

rodsmith said...

Your surprised Phillip?

The more confused it is the less MONEY they have to pay out. There fore more MONEY is available for them to STEAL!

Just like the tax code. Main reason it's redone every 10-15 years. As people learn the rules tax collection goes DOWN. Change the rules around ....tax collection goes UP. Time for a new rewrite!

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Mr. Baker, you refered to Mr. Greff as 11:29. We reserve tick- tock for those that post without using thier name.

BTW, you, Mr. Greff, DEWEY & rodsmith (including 2:32 PM ) all make some very good points. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, the bills you’ve outlined all seem to skirt around Real Texas historic / systemic problems and plausible solutions, appearing to be aimed at only a few vs. benefitting the public at large. Just 3 bills. They could’ve done this from home via the net and saved us a crapload.

The first thing I considered was that this session is just bills to appease those that donated the most to campaigns. Could be wrong, but feel warm. Thanks.