Saturday, April 25, 2015

At the three quarters mark: What criminal justice bills appear likely to pass?

With just a little more than a month left in the 84th Texas Legislature, let's survey the landscape regarding significant criminal justice bills which appear likely to pass. For purposes of this post, we'll define "likely to pass" as bills which have already been voted out by one chamber or the other. We'll define "significant" as "stuff Grits cares about."

First on the likely-to-pass list would have to be three House bills up Tuesday in Chairman John Whitmire's Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which are among the first HBs I've seen posted for a hearing in the Senate on any topic Grits covers. (Even HB 11 on border security has languished, with the senate passing SB 3 instead of substituting in the House bill.)

HB 593 requires police officers to undergo canine encounter training. HB 225 would help prevent overdoses by expanding use of naloxone, an opiod antagonist (an antidote with no known side effects which is highly effective for heroin and many prescription pain medications) by first responders and adults with a prescription, and create a defense to prosecution for people who call 911 in response to an overdose. (Your correspondent supported this bill in the House.)

The last HB up in Senate Criminal Justice Tuesday is HB 10, a bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill. There's one piece in HB 10 (Sec. 13) which Grits opposes because it makes uncorroborated informant testimony sufficient to obtain a human trafficking conviction - a recipe for false convictions if there ever was one. But nobody seemed to care about that on the House side and I'll be (happily) surprised if the Senate alters it. After the provision causes a few false convictions, maybe a few sessions hence they'll revisit it. See Grits' discussion of the same provision in a stand-alone bill.

The next category of bills with a high likelihood of passage would have to be "anything authored by John Whitmire." Among his bills which have cleared the Senate are legislation decriminalizing truancy and another bill adjusting procedures for criminal charges filed against misbehaving kids in school. Another Whitmire bill now in the House would eliminate the pick a pal grand jury system. His bill reforming the civil commitment system passed the senate (see MSM coverage), as did his bill downsizing the juvenile justice system. That is a successful session by any measure for the Dean of the Senate, and there are five weeks to go.

Sen. Joan Huffman's legislation reinstating the offense of online solicitation of a minor and criminalizing computer terms of service violations both passed the upper chamber, though on the latter bill the House passed its own version instead of taking up her version.

Sen. Royce West's body camera legislation passed the Senate, as did Rodney Ellis' bill clarifying access to post-conviction DNA testing in favor of defendants. Sen. Jose Rodriguez's bill requiring appointment of counsel for habeas writs under certain circumstances has cleared the Senate, and the companion is already out of committee, so it looks like it's ready to move. Sen. Juan Hinojosa's SB 1287 expanding licensing and regulation of forensic analysts through the Forensic Science Commission passed out of the senate, as did Senators Hinojosa's and Rodriguez's bill improving reentry resources provided to inmates leaving TDCJ. The companion to the latter bill was already approved by the House Corrections Committee.

The House has been less prolific passing criminal justice bills. Grits already mentioned HB 1546 by Allen giving diligent participation credits for state jail felons that would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. The Senate version is already out of committee and on the intent calendar.

Otherwise, scarce little that passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has actually received a floor vote, and quite a few interesting bills with plenty of support to get out of committee have not been given votes by the chair (e.g., HB 507 on civil penalties for pot, asset forfeiture legislation). That's a better track record, though, than the Select Committee on Emerging Law Enforcement Issues, which hasn't voted out a single bill all session (which most observers believed was its purpose all along).

This list is not remotely comprehensive. Plenty of other bills still have a chance if they're already out of committee, or even some that get voted out of committee next week, though that's an even longer shot. After that, committees will mostly focus on the other chambers' bills, or bills where the chair promised a hearing but which nobody thinks can pass.


sunray's wench said...

Again, it's a shame that SB 578 needs to be introduced through law, but I'm glad that it looks likely. The only issue I have is that many inmates are denied parole on the basis of not having somewhere suitable to live - and that information is needed before they see a parole officer, not just within 180 of walking out the gate. But it's a good start if it passes into law.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you, SW. They need to get new blood in BPP. Not the same good ol' boy system. Gov. Abbott needs needs to replace Rissie and the folks that have been there too long.

John Delaney said...

I testified in favor of H.B. 507, which would convert about 63,000 annual Texas arrests for possession of marijuana (1 oz. and below) into citations with "civil penalties" up to $250. Because this is not a criminal conviction, it would therefore no longer result in automatic DL suspensions, or criminal records to bar employment, housing, loans, etc.

Even though there are enough votes to get this out of committee, word is that Chairman Herrero has so far refused to schedule it for a vote. This is distressing because the bill is widely hailed as good public policy. At least 19 states have already passed similar laws. The evidence proves that such reforms don't result in more drug use, so what's the objection?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scott for posting this but it almost sounds like you are pandering to certain folks when you claim Whitmire's SB1630 is about downsizing Juvenile Justice System. Here is What how the Senator chose to list it on the legislative website "Commitment of juveniles in post-adjudication secure correctional facilities operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and by local probation departments". I support it regardless as I am sure you do as well. I say this because I do not want anyone to think Whitmire opposed age of majority 17 to 18 because it somehow conflicted with this bill. I support 17 to 18 by the way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Judge Delaney, you're right about HB 507. The votes are there, the chair just hasn't let it out.

@9:57, SB 1630 would close multiple Texas youth prisons and have counties manage the youth. They'll be incarcerated for less time and more emphasis will be placed on community supervision. That's "downsizing" and IMO it's not pandering to say so. When Whitmire is done, if projections hold, we'll have gone from 5,000 youth in TYC facilities to two or three hundred in state-run lockups. That's no small thing.

sunray's wench said...

"When Whitmire is done, if projections hold, we'll have gone from 5,000 youth in TYC facilities to two or three hundred in state-run lockups."

That would be quite an achievement.