Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dead hostages, live hostages: Wading through the wreckage at the end of session

Grits will perform a more comprehensive roundup of what happened in the 85th Texas Legislature later, but here are a few quick updates from an eventful week:

Dead hostages, live hostages
In the battle between House and Senate leadership, each killed a hostage, and let a few others live. Among the departed: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick never referred HB 122 which would have raised the age at which youth are charged as adults for crimes from 17-18 years old.

In apparent retaliation, the major bail reform legislation passed by the Senate and championed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht died in the House Calendars Committee, though clearly if House leadership had wanted to give it a floor vote, there was time for it to get one.

Other hostages, though, were allowed to live. HB 34 - a watered down version of the "innocence" recommendations from the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, passed late last night. Reading tea leaves, the hostage was apparently freed from its shackles in exchange for the House bringing the senate's debtors-prison legislation on the floor (although who really knows what politics underlie these subterranean disputes?).

Grits fails to understand how criminal-justice reform legislation became part of the political football being played between the chambers. These are all bipartisan bills with wide support, both the hostages that were killed and the ones allowed to live. But whaddya gonna do?

Kid Stuff
Another good bill passed yesterday - HB 674, eliminating out-of-school suspensions for pre-K to second graders. Research shows a strong linkage between such early suspensions and the likelihood youth will drop out of high school or commit crimes in the future. So while it looks like an education bill, to Grits it's juvenile-justice legislation.

Democrats Eric Johnson and Sylvia Garcia did a great job of building bipartisan support for HB 674 in both chambers, and Texas Appleseed's Morgan Craven did an amazing job shepherding the various bills on the topic through the process. This is a nice vindication for Appleseed's work; they have been running local campaigns to get large ISDs to adopt this policy and now it may become the law of  the land.

A responsible killing for Driver Responsibility "reform"
The Driver Responsibility surcharge was the last, big, extant criminal-justice legislation this session, but the Phillips-Miles Tariff now appears dead. HB 2068 was pulled from the senate intent calendar yesterday, after leadership refused to accept a version of the bill suggested by Sen. Miles with ameliorating amendments.  Rep. Larry Phillips had earlier blamed our friend Emily Gerrick from the Texas Fair Defense Project for the bill's struggle in the Senate, berating her in a couple of angry phone calls. (Henceforth she shall be known as, "Emily the Terrible: Killer of Bills.") Others credited blamed this blog's coverage for derailing the legislation, which had backing not just from the greedy hospital lobbyists seeking extra funds but also from ACLU and reformers at the Smart on Crime Coalition. (You can imagine how upset I was at their disapprobation. 😢)

The hospitals would have gained a bunch of extra money if this bill passed, but it would have been raised on the backs of indigent drivers. The new fines amounted to an attack on the poor and would have the unintended but entirely foreseeable consequence of initiating a debtors-prison nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people. Bottom line: The bill was a piece of junk and the Legislature can do better. They'll get another chance in 2019.
* * *
Beyond the above-mentioned legislation, four more prisons closing, and the modest but important Sandra Bland Act (that lacks key reforms which would have saved her life, but could save the lives of others), not much reform legislation passed this year. But then not much of anything passed of import, on any topic. All the important issues facing the state were put on the back burner in 2017 in favor of culture-war debates over bathrooms and nativist posing over immigration. Presumably, they'll get around to governing the state at some point in the future.


Anonymous said...

I do hope HB 2068 is dead. It was defiantly a bait and switch. Sixteen bills were filled dealing w/repealing the DRP and none of them made it.A real DOG AND PONEY SHOW no doubt. I have no respect for these liers.

Anonymous said...

They could have AT LEAST amended the current law to put licenses suspensions for not paying at two years. That would have gotten people insured again and back to work....but nooooo....they continue to play these games. They really deserve this years Bum Steer Award. They are all idiots in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Who in the Senate are these people " leadership refused to accept a version of the bill suggested by Sen. Miles with ameliorating amendments" with regard to the DRP? I'd like to call them.....I'd like to bombard these people daily with phone calls.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Probably the Lite Guv, 4:22. I was told Miles thought he had his votes on the floor.

That said, Chairman Nelson of the Finance Committee reportedly didn't like that the DWI and no-insurance fines were so unreasonable and unlikely to be paid even by most non-indigent drivers. And the amendments wouldn't have fixed that. IMO opposing this bill even with the amendments is not an unreasonable stance from a good-government perspective; it really is a piece of junk. There's no obvious answer as to what is the "best" outcome from the array of bad options presented in the original Phillips bill, from which the House author refused to budge.

At the end of the day, Chairman Phillips was the wrong author for the bill and the biggest reason it couldn't be made better. He's one of the only members who still endorses the basic concept behind the hospitals' money grab - that DWI and no-insurance offenders should pay for trauma care instead of taxes - and he has less sympathy for the indigent than almost any other member of the Legislature. Just about anybody else would have been better.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

MORE: @4:22 - from Sen. Miles' press release about the bill dying:

"I was prepared to accept amendments to address the need to aid the poor who find themselves trapped by fines, and to lessen out dependence on the faulty system to fund critical trauma care services. However, the leadership has given their commitment that this bill will be a priority next session. I look forward to working with the leaders of both chambers to push this legislation forward."

David E said...

Which four prisons? And any idea when the hiring freeze ends?

Anonymous said...

We have no state income tax so they try to 'back door' gaps in the state budget with fines that fall to the state's most marginalized citizens. We are better than this. I've heard 'next session' far too many times. They will never do anything but posture politically.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:30, from the Texas Observer, "On the chopping block are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. Altogether, the facilities cost the state $51.2 million every two years and hold 1,755 inmates, according to officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)."

Unknown said...

Any info on bradshaw state jail closing. Or state jail inmates being sent back to county

Unknown said...

Any additional info on state jail closings or related info would be appreciated