Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Bill updates during a busy week

Grits has been too busy to blog much this week but here are a few updates on bills we've followed this session.

Hope springs eternal and thus the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday passed out several more House bills which now face an uphill climb to make their way into the crush of legislation the lower chamber will hear between now and May 14. Technically still alive, these bills are on life support. It'll take a few days for the bills to even get to the Calendars Committee, and by then there won't be many if any realistic opportunities for them to receive floor votes without a lot of luck. Still, getting voted out of committee is better than dying in committee.

Civil penalties for pot. Rep. Joe Moody's HB 507 creating civil penalties for low-level pot possession was resurrected on a motion to reconsider and passed out of committee 4-1 with 2 absent. The bill had earlier been voted down when the chair conducted a vote while the members supporting it weren't in the room. See coverage from the Houston Chronicle.

Decreasing punishments for certain nonviolent offenses. Rep. Senfronia Thompson's HB 3326 reducing certain nonviolent misdemeanor and state jail felony punishments passed out of committee 4-1 with 2 absent. This bill would save the state $163 million in the coming biennium and nearly half a billion dollars over five years.

However, not all the bills passed in House Criminal Jurisprudence Monday face such long odds:

Update property offense levels to account for inflation. HB 1530 was an exception to the judgment that bills voted out Monday face long odds of passage. That's because the senate companion is already over and has been referred to the same committee, so the unanimous committee vote for the House bill will translate into support for SB 393.

Also, to update an earlier Grits post:

Raise the age.  HB 1205 finally made it from the committee office to the Calendars Committee, but there remain a lot of bills seeking a hearing in these final days. It'll need some leadership help or a lot of luck to make it at this stage. (Update: This bill was quickly placed on a calendar and it's highly possible the Lege will get to this bill before the 5/14 deadline.)

On a more sanguine note, several good bills have made their way onto House floor calendars:

Pretrial hearings. HB 452 by Alonzo moving up the timetable for pretrial hearings has been set for a House floor vote on Friday.  This is a really good (if perhaps under-appreciated) bill that will save  courts time and money.

Asset forfeiture. There's a bill on Friday's floor calendar, HB 530, with a caption big enough to carry some other asset forfeiture legislation related to reporting requirements as amendments. Legislation to raise the standard by which assets may be seized from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing" evidence remains in Calendars.

Needle exchange. Coming off an unlikely 9-0 vote in the County Affairs Committee, HB 65 by McLendon authorizing needle exchange pilots in seven counties has been scheduled for a floor vote Monday. The version that came out of committee forbids government funding and has authorized nonprofits instead of government agencies operate the programs.

As always, this list is non-comprehensive - just a sampling of bills that merit notice, not by any stretch a complete list.


Gilbert G. Garcia said...

The article praises the bill, but it looks like a bad bill to me, it extends the time for 2 years for anyone that gets a misdemeanor and wants a non-disclosure after probation. That seems excessive, especially since it takes the DPS 7 months to actually clear the record after the Judge signs the Order. I would like to know your thoughts. thanks, Gilbert

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's not a bill I've followed closely, Gilbert, but I'll run the traps to see what more informed folks than me have to say.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Gilbert, here's what I'm told:

The bill doesn't change any of the timing set up for ONDs granted following deferred adjudication, which is all that is allowed now. The bill expands eligibility for ONDs to misdemeanor convictions, and only certain misdemeanor convictions are subject to the 2-year waiting period (crimes against persons punished by probation, and any misdemeanor punished by incarceration).

Certainly, it could be stronger. The availability of ONDs for misdemeanor convictions only apply to those who have never committed a crime before (it's been touted as a pure "second chance" bill - not third or fourth or fifth chance).

The bill also makes ONDs automatic (under judicial discretion) for first-time nonviolent misdemeanors following deferred adjudication.

Anonymous said...

Re: Asset Forfeiture

This is what Senators with Rs on their foreheads have to say about that. At least the Bought & Paid for pols take time to thank you prior to telling you to - GFY.

Thank you for contacting me regarding civil asset forfeiture programs. I recognize the time and effort that you are dedicating to actively participate in the democratic process, and I appreciate the benefit of your comments on this matter.

As you may know, civil asset forfeiture is designed to ensure that those who violate the law do not profit from their crimes. In addition, this process provides the accused with an opportunity to prove before a court that their assets were not used in or derived from the commission of a crime.

While separate civil asset forfeiture programs exist in each state, Congress passed the federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act in 2000, placing the burden of proof on the federal government to show that the property in question is subject to civil forfeiture. I believe that the instrumentalities and proceeds of crimes should be subject to asset forfeiture, but that individuals should be protected from forfeiture abuse through strong procedural protections like those found in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. You may be certain that I will keep your concerns in mind should relevant legislation be considered during the 114th Congress.

I am always appreciative when Texans take the time to reach out to me and share their concerns. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.


United States Senator

Anonymous said...

Looters are not thugs! Arsonists are not thugs!

Anonymous said...

HB 452 will save money just like the Micheal Morton Act saved money, and for the same reasons.

In other words, it won't save money it will cost money. TDCAA (the lobbying group for Texas prosecutors) claimed that the reform to 39.14 wouldn't cost them anything because they already had an open file policy... Well you DID have an open file policy but your prosecutors were either lying about the contents of the file or lazily not pursuing evidence and relying on the anxiety created by the high possible punishment to generate guilty pleas.

Now that defendants have a statutory right to see the evidence against them before trial the system is collapsing under its own weight. The Travis County Attorney had to hire over a dozen new staff to try to keep up with the new load and they are still falling farther and farther behind.

Think of it this way: reducing the number of misdemeanor pleas from 99% to 98% doubled the size of the trial docket.

A statutory right to a pretrial hearing will have the same impact except maybe worse because they can't hire paralegals to appear in court. There are not enough prosecutors and judges to do the job. It will totally screw the dockets and of course I am fine with that because it means that serious resources will be diverted to the intake process to prevent bullshit cases ever being filed.