Sunday, April 28, 2013

Previewing criminal justice committees, floor action at the Texas Lege

If the sound of bills dying were audible there'd be death rattles echoing around every corner of the capitol these days. Monday week is the last day House committees can report out House bills, which means that bills which never received a hearing or haven't been voted out of committee on the House side after this week are DOA. Senate bills have a little more time because they suspend the rules whenever they want, but even in the upper chamber the end of the session looms and  everyone's turning their attention to bills over from the other side of the building. Here's a brief overview of what's going on in the criminal justice committees at this very fluid moment in the session. Click on the committee's names to see their full agendas.

Senate Criminal Justice

When lots of House bills begin to be heard in Senate committees and vice versa, you know the end of the session is drawing mercifully near. Six bills are posted for a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Commitee, five of them House bills. The short docket is a testament to the fact that the House hasn't passed much of significance this session on criminal-justice topics outside its ill-conceived prison budget, for good or ill.

House Criminal Jurisprudence

By contrast, this committee is taking its last opportunity to hear a raft of House bills on Monday before a looming deadline later this week. I'd already mentioned the questionable wiretapping bill. A couple by Jessica Farrar, HBs 1701 and 1703 repealing homosexual conduct ban and the death penalty, respectively, are both late-session culture-war fodder, posted after the point when there's a reasonable possibility of passage. Indeed, most of the House bills being heard without a senate companion already on the way have a foot in the grave as I write this.

House Corrections

Nothing posted for next week as of this writing. See their last slate of House bills heard on Thursday.

House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence

For Grits' purposes, the big bill of the day is SB 1611 by Ellis/Thompson related to discovery in criminal cases.

House Homeland Security and Public Safety

On Wednesday, May 1, the committee will hear invited testimony investigating the causes of the fertilizer plant explosion in West. To my knowledge this is the first official public hearing digging into the topic by government at any level, so this should be an interesting and important hearing filled with new information. I hope the members come into it adequately prepared, there's a bit of an historic burden on their shoulders as the first to publicly dig into what happened.

On Thursday, the committee will hear their final slate of House bills. One of the bills up, HB 3165 by Jonathon Stickland, would mandate that cities with surveillance cameras must post near each camera a sign that declares, "Warning: You are under surveillance by [name of municipality]." At least our law enforcement readers may rest assured he wouldn't have mandated an exclamation point!

There's also a bad bill with thankfully just as little chance of passing this session that would keep accident reports from being filed against police officers, fire fighters and EMTs for minor accidents while on duty or where an investigating officer found they are not at fault.

And one more update from this committee: HB 104 putting the Driver Responsibility surcharge on hold for two years is still waiting in Calendars Commettee for a House floor vote. These are the folks who will decide whether the bill moves any further or dies.

On the House floor

On Tuesday, there's an enhancement bill for felony DWI limiting parole opportunities (HB 517 by Pitts). The orginal, filed version according to the criminal justice impact statement would have increased the state's demand for prison beds by 7,351 by 2018. Reported HRO, "The committee substitute amended the original bill so that it would apply to those serving a sentence of 25 years or more for intoxication offenses, while the original bill would have applied to certain repeat offenders whose offense was enhanced to a third-degree felony." (N.B., An earlier version mis-attributed the criminal justice note from the filed version of the bill to the narrower version passed out of committee. Grits regrets the error.)

Also Tuesday, Corrections Committee Chair Tan Parker brings to a floor a bill addressing the problem of "pre-suit depositions by offenders" so grave that no one showed up in committee to testify in favor of the legislation. Seems like another solution in search of a problem.

On Wednesday, the House will vote (again) on whether to ban Salvia Divinorum. Rep. Sheets wants to help bail bond companies with their taxes. Another bill would allow the parole board to set off capital life and other aggravated felons for 10 years at a time instead of five.

TDCJ's Sunset bill is scheduled for a floor hearing next Saturday, nearly by itself.

AND IN THE OTHER CORNER:  The Senate side schedule is more difficult to predict, but see the bills presently on the senate's "intent calendar," meaning they are eligible for a vote.

RELATED: Medical examiner issues dominate early criminal justice bills sent to Governor's desk.


Lee said...

Scott, Are there any penalties for prosecutors violating the new discovery provisions?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

IANAL but here's the text of the bill. It doesn't create new penalties, as I understand it, but better defines specific duties. Existing, potential penalties, a la Ken Anderson, may still apply.

Anonymous said...

On HB 517 - It appears that you are referring to the criminal justice impact statement for the introduced version, yet using the fiscal note for the committee substitute of the bill.

That is clearly a disingenuous way to try and take a shot at the fiscal note process.

I urge you to correct the inaccurate posting.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Calm down, 7:06, it was just a mistake. See if you're okay with the corrected version. If not, I'll gladly refund your entrance fee.

Anonymous said...

Can you explain, in layman's language, exactly what SB 1448 means? Does that mean if someone was arrested for (lets say) a P.I. and slept it off in jail, he/she can pay a fee to make it a non discoverable to the general public?