Friday, March 13, 2015

Interesting criminal justice bills, developments at Texas Lege this week

Here are a few items that caught Grits' attention at the Lege this week as the bill filing deadline approaches at the end of the day today.

House backs prison guard raise
Budget writers in the Texas House "added a 10 percent raise for correctional officers, citing numerous vacancies," reported Peggy Fikac at the SA Express News. Grits has suggested they adjust penalties for state jail felonies, as state Rep. Senfronia Thompson proposed this week (see below), and close a couple of units to pay for it.

Maintenance deferred at DPS, TDCJ
The Texas Department of Public Safety says it needs $370 million for deferred maintenance on its facilities, while the Department of criminal Justice offered a surprisingly low number of $165 million for needed maintenance at its 109 units and administrative facilities.

Scale back incarceration for low-level, nonviolent crimes
Rep. Senfronia Thompson has filed a bill adjusting penalties downward for certain nonviolent misdemeanor and felony offenses, including indexing property crimes for inflation and reducing penalties for low-level possession of marijuana and less-than-a-gram of other controlled substances by one penalty category. The bill includes most of the suggestions offered for reducing corrections costs at the state and county level offered last month in this Grits post.

Stop suspending licenses for Driver Responsibility surcharge nonpayment
Rep. Thompson also has an excellent bill which would forbid suspension of drivers licenses for nonpayment of the Driver Responsibility surcharge, which would eliminate many of the worst unintended consequences from the program.

Speeding up appointment of indigent counsel
Senators Kel Seliger and Royce West filed legislation setting limits on how long defendants can sit in jail before a judge appoints them counsel if they're indigent - one day in counties with more than 250,000, and three days in counties with less than 250,000 population. Rep. Garnet Coleman has similar legislation in the House.

Require criminal conviction for asset forfeiture
Sen. Konni Burton filed legislation that would void asset forfeiture proceedings if prosecutors failed to secure an underlying conviction.

Replace grand juries with full-time "probable cause juries"
Rep. Harold Dutton filed a bill to transform grand juries into full-time, permanent "probable cause juries." These would be three person panels - one appointed by the county judge, one by the presiding officer of the largest municipality in the county, and a third, presiding juror selected by those two people. These must be licensed attorneys who've practiced ten years and have not worked as a prosecutor for at least the last two. Interesting idea.

Re-open law enforcement records on closed cases
Rep. Dutton also filed legislation which would reinstate the original application of the Texas Public Information Act for law enforcement records, reversing a two-decade old catastrophe dating from when the Texas Supreme Court gutted the act and the Legislature codified their bad ruling instead of repairing it. Dutton's bill would allow exemptions to the Public Information Act for ongoing cases and open them up after the cases are closed, which is how the state operated for nearly three decades before 1996-97. See Grits' arguments in favor of a similar Dutton bill from 2007. IMO this is perhaps the most effective and important police accountability bill proposed at the Texas Legislature this session.

Don't keep license plate reader records not part of a criminal case
Rep. Matt Rinaldi filed legislation to require all images from government owned license plate readers to be destroyed within seven days unless they're part of an ongoing criminal investigation or prosecution. Another bill by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione would mandate destruction of images after 90 days.

Limit automated traffic enforcement
Rep. Gary Elkins filed a bill to eliminate automated traffic enforcement systems and another forbidding issuance of civil instead of criminal penalties for traffic offenses under municipal ordinances.

Increased penalty for First Amendment activity by CHL holders
Rep. Jason Villaba's just-filed bill criminalizing non-MSM citizen filming of police officers is already drawing fire, in part because it's actually more restrictive if the person doing the filming is carrying a firearm with a concealed carry permit.

Introducing the Texas Drone Corps
Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville wants the governor's office to have a drone program. The bill doesn't say whether the governor would be authorized to arm the drones or outfit them with Stingrays/IMSI catchers, but there's no limits described on their use except that they be deployed for "state purposes. That couldn't be any broader.


Anonymous said...

There's this one about making it illegal to film police under certain circumstances might pique your interest, as well. Or it might be much bru-ha-ha about nothing. Would be quite interested in hearing your opinion if you found it worth your time.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's the Jason Villaba bill mentioned second from the bottom. Obviously I don't like the bill, but the remarkable piece about it to me is that a Republican would be willing to penalize CHL holders EXTRA for exercising their 2nd amendment rights. Extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

*face palm* don't know how I missed that. My brain locked upon the CHL part of the headline, and I didn't read the subtext. :/ Thanks for clarifying!

I find it troubling that this bill would prevent occupants inside a car from filming their own interaction during a traffic stop.

I also don't understand the logic that connects camera and firearm, and why carrying one should increase the distance for the other.

jcfromnj said...

The on VERY shaky ground on this. I don't see it getting off the ground.
Aside from all the obvious
presidence on the issue,it goes against the 14th amendment Exclusionary Clause: It crate's a privileged class(Non-Conventional Media)Vs Establishment. That issue was delt with by the Court, If you have the equipment and you are time, place, and mission specific(On a Mission from God :))
It's not just the Cops who are behind this issue, the Major News Media started this project some time ago to restrict access to news. They have a cozy relationship with law enforcemnet.

It also goes to Prior Restraint among other things. i think Jason just touched the Tar Baby on this."The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You" Jason, and just about everybody else for that matter

albeed said...

Any LE Union bill which prohibits the use of capturing evidence (filming of police) should be used for the toilet paper it is and its sponsor should be run out of town.

As for the governor's drone, I understand that drones are great for bringing back really good barbeque or other fast foods while still hot.

Steve said...

Regarding Rep Thompson’s proposal to adjust penalties for property crimes: on its face, it’s not a bad idea. Last century’s misdemeanor shouldn’t be today’s felony because of inflation. However, as one of my colleagues from east Texas has noted, there could be a couple of problems with raising the threshold for a Class A misdemeanor theft to $20,000. The maximum term for misdemeanor probation is two years. That would necessitate a monthly restitution payment of over $800 for $20,000 in restitution. Not many people on probation can afford that. Therefore, probation departments would have to request extensions for that probation, or else tell victims, “Sorry, you’re out of luck.” In addition, the state only pays probation departments to supervise defendants for 180 says, so the departments would be supervising people for free for a long period of time if these extensions became a regular practice.

Anonymous said...

That grand jury "reform" proposal: lets take 12 citizens and replace them with 2 lawyers, who then pick a third lawyer. Oh and make them permanent positions. Wow, can you think of a worse system? I'd rather have 12 folks summoned at random from Wal-Mart parking lot than this uber-insider deal. Talk about "pick a pal". Literally. Hope that proposal goes down in flames. The current system (flawed as it is) is WAY more democratic and transparent than this proposal.

Anonymous said...

Stop suspending licenses for Driver Responsibility surcharge nonpayment: Yes and add a rider that offers an amnesty period to pay it back. This one fix would put several thousands back to work in jobs they are qualified for which would also lessen the need for assistance. Agreed. Good one.