Thursday, February 09, 2017

Texas House committee assignments out

Congratulations to new committee chairmen Joe Moody in House Criminal Jurisprudence and James White in House Corrections. These appointments are generally positive signals for reform legislation this session. See this year's appointments.

In particular, Chairman Moody's bill reducing low-level marijuana possession to a civil penalty didn't get a vote in 2015 until late in the game, and then in a chaotic, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink type hearing which muddied the issue more than clarified it. One expects in 2017 that that legislation may receive a higher profile early on, giving it a much better chance of passage. Another good sign for bills coming out of this committee: Todd Hunter, Calendars Committee Chairman, is vice chair of House Criminal Jurisprudence under Moody. So the committee's work will definitely be on his radar screen.

Chairman White, for his part, has been increasingly reform minded, especially when it comes to debtors-prison type issues.

Another relevant change: Phil King took over Homeland Security and Public Safety from Larry Phillips, who moved to chair Insurance. (Legislation related to DPS and the driver responsibility surcharge goes through this committee.)

Harold Dutton retained chairmanship of the Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, and of course Sen. John Whitmire still chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which is the upper-chamber counterpart through which most House bills in these committees must eventually pass.

The field is set. Time for everybody to get to work.


People said...

They need to get rid of Civil Commitment....this is Unconstitutional! This program has not released anyone, Nobody has completed this program.Whitmire has a mess of this program.How many more years does it take for these people to complete Treatment? Tax payers are paying this Mess!

People said...

The need to get rid of Civil Commitment it is Unconstitutional! After prison they are placing men in another Prison Whitmire has this program a mess and nobody has

Bill Habern said...

Our law firm has consistently spoken out in protest of the Texas Civil Commitment Statute and how it is applied. Nancy Bunin with our office has been and continues to be a leader in efforts obtaining the changes that have been made. She has been recognized by the Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers and others for her excellent work in this area. However, the changes last session still left certain constitutional issues unresolved.

There is no doubt that currently Texas Civil Commitment needs either to be terminated, or substantially amended. It currently is not a rehabilitative program as required by the USSC to be Constitutionally upheld. It has become a punitive institution and thus unconstitutional. The stories from individuals in this program reflect serious constitutional abuse. I doubt the legislature will do anything with it this time. What needs to happen is there needs to be a serious and organized legal challenge in federal court to the current organization and application of this statute and the way it is imposed. In other states such a challenge by organized pro bono public service law organizations have proven positive.

The reasons no serious constitutional challenge to the Texas civil commitment program has not been forthcoming in an organized fashion is that bringing such a case (particularly a class action) is extremely expensive, extensive organization would be demanded of a full legal staff, and acquiring the legal man power hours required to undertake what would likely be a several year project. (This has been accomplished in the Texas prison heat cases and that effort is on going). The lack of availability of the financing and man power to undertake this project seems to cause this project to be beyond the reach of the very few Texas public interest law firms that at times take on such socially concerning projects. In the past when obviously civil rights are being violated in state institutions there have been a few "White shoe" law firms undertake such important issues, but this time the issue is about "Sex offenders" and I speculate that few, if any, such substantial firms are interested in having their names associated with the unpopular flashback such an undertaking would bring from the media and public who seems to be totally lacking in the understanding of just how bad things are in the operation of this program.

I suggest the only kind of change that is necessary for civil commitment must come from federal civil rights litigation.

Bill Habern
The Habern Law Firm
Houston, Texas

Anonymous said...

I went down the list of appointments and boy howdy, some must have involved major paybacks.

Unknown said...

I have mixed feelings on the civil commitment issue. It is horrible for someone to be locked down like that. But, we do have involuntary commitment to mental institutions for those deemed a threat to themselves or others and have a concomitant mental illness.
That said, I was on the Hightower unit where they have the SO program for 6 years. There were several there who had been "sentenced" to commitment. To cite an example, there was an inmate who had been a 3rd grade teacher and had abused 11 of his students. I am ashamed to admit this, but after hearing him laugh and joke about what he did to those innocent children, well let's just say I "lost it". He bragged about having paid a lawyer $40,000 and "only" got 8 years. There is no doubt in my mind that had he been released back into society he would have re offended. My major at UNT was abnormal psych with a minor in developmental psych. It was obvious to me that he is incapable of having a conscious (sp?). Then there were some who were commited whom I felt would have benefitted from being realeased to intensive supervision and outside treatment because they were struggling to understand why what they did was wrong. So, after my personal contact with those offenders I can only say that I reluctantly uphold keeping the incorrigibles off the streets. I don't feel that the former teacher could be helped, and he made it clear that he did not need help because he felt there was nothing wrong with him and what he did. As I said, I am reluctantly for it because at present there are no alternatives.