Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dutton-Whitmire bill logjam breaking up: Truancy decrim, juvenile regionalization and grand-jury reform all still have time to pass

The Texas House may get one final chance to vote on Sen. John Whitmire's legislation - now amended onto a passing house bill - to eliminate the state's pick-a-pal grand jury system.

On Tuesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Chairman John Whitmire substituted his "consensus" senate version of grand jury reform to HB 2150 by Rep. Carol Alvarado, stripping out the version Rep. Harold Dutton amended on the House floor, including the brackets added by Rep. Ed Thompson to limit the bill to counties with more than 500,000 population. He also left on some additional minor changes that were in Alvarado's pre-amended bill.

The Senate earlier passed Whitmire's grand jury reform bill 31-0. HB 2150, added  to the committee agenda at the last minute via a suspension of the rules, also received a unanimous vote in committee and, having been previously agreed to in the upper chamber, should move out of the senate fairly quickly.

Sen. Whitmire also amended his legislation decriminalizing truancy to a bill by Rep. James White. The chairman said White was strongly supportive of decriminalizing truancy, legislation which never received a vote in the House Juvenile Justice and Family Matters Committee, which Rep. Dutton chairs.

Both bills face concurrence votes when they get back to the House, which will essentially be that chamber's up or down vote on Whitmire's legislation.

In related news, on Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle's Mike Ward reported that Whitmire's juvenile regionalization legislation, which would result in at least one TJJD unit closing, was near death's door. "By Tuesday afternoon, supporters of the Senate bill were pushing for a hearing in the House to get the bill moving again — and were looking for a House bill in the Senate that could be amended to make the changes contemplated in Whitmire's bill." Then on Wednesday, Chairman Dutton finally obliged reform supporters and voted SB 1630 unanimously out of his committee. It still has time to pass if the committee report doesn't lollygag on its way to Calendars.

Grits is relieved to see the stalemate subsiding, better late than never. All these issues are too big and important to let inter-chamber rivalries prevent their passage.

UPDATE (5/23): Whitmire's SB 135 eliminating the pick-a-pal system was posted to Saturday's floor calendar and passed on second reading on a voice vote. Third reading is Sunday afternoon. See coverage from the Houston Chronicle.


Anonymous said...

The longer these things drag out, the less likely they are to pass. My biggest concern/issue with some of the specifics of proposals like grand jury reform is that most of the leg are willing to impose it on Harris County but not willing to accept it across Texas as a whole. If a reform is such a wonderful thing, why limit it to just one county?

Anonymous said...

10:43 AMEN

Anonymous said...

The juv re-org is not a good thing for the state. Over 50% of youth committed to TJJD have already been placed in one of the so-called "regional facilities" and either failed to complete the program or completed , came home and re-offended. The " community based programs " are not based in the communities that do not have them--- the "Closer to Home" idea as presented is a farce. Many of the regional facilities are in counties that do not provide services to other counties. The 6 to 9 month programs they provide are not long enough to have a treatment effect on youth with high crimnogenic risks. The result will be that youth who pose a significant threat to the community will have minimum treatment, minimum consequences , and more victims.

Anonymous said...

I love how you and everyone credits Dutton for for hissy fits and whitmire for saving the day. I make no claim Dutton is perfect or even close to perfect, but no one ever wants to call out senator whitmire for being a bully that has to get exactly what he wants and doesn't work with anyone and could give a rat's ass if the house approves any of his bills. How did this guy who clearly doesn't really understand the JJ system and really wants to kill it slowly get dubbed the JJ reform god?

Anonymous said...

Disgust. Many good Bills in calanders will die because of egotism such as this nonsense. I wrote Governor Abbot and asked that he hold them over for a special session because of BS like this happening. Encourage it Grits.

Anonymous said...

Whitmire is the Trojan Horse of JJ.... and TJJD staff know full well that "Closer to Home " as presented is a farce. They will not confront the bully or his hired gun Tony F concerning the house of cards that the re-org is based on.