Sunday, May 07, 2017

Police accountability bills bottled up by House leadership, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers attention while mine is focused elsewhere:

Tragic shooting colors legislative debates
A Balch Springs cop who shot a fleeing 15-year old with a rifle has been fired from his job and faces murder charges. See the Dallas Morning News coverage. This news spurred the black caucus in the Texas Legislature to issue a stern complaint that none of the important police accountability legislation proposed this session has received a vote on the House floor. Their frustration surely contributed in part to the death of HB 2050, which expanded secrecy provisions related to police misconduct cases.

Sandra Bland Act gutted in senate
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee this week passed out a radically stripped down version of the Sandra Bland Act, but quite frankly it's hard to get too excited about the minimalist items left in the bill. Wrote the Texas Tribune's Jonathan Silver:
Whitmire's version most notably removes language that would ban arresting people for offenses that generally only have fines as a punishment. Earlier versions of the bill also tried to make it easier for nonviolent people in jail to receive personal bonds. Whitmire said fine-only offenses would be addressed in a separate bill, as the Sandra Bland Act is "primarily a mental health, accountability" bill.
The problem with that bit of reportage is that the "separate bill" was SB 271, which had earlier that day appeared on the same agenda with the Sandra Bland Act. But Chairman Whitmire pulled that bill off the agenda hours before the hearing, much to the consternation of the bill author and supporters who believed they had sufficient bipartisan support to pass it out of committee. So Whitmire was pledging to address a problem in a bill which he had already killed just hours before. SB 271's companion, HB 574, is in the Calendars Committee and has yet to be posted for a floor vote. Unless leadership adds the bill to a Major State calendar, it's probably too late for it to be heard.

Remembering (the real) Sandra Bland
Meanwhile, as Grits has pointed out before, it's a bit anomalous to pass a "mental health accountability" bill in response to the Sandra Bland story because she was not, in fact, mentally ill.

Pensions and bill killing
Governing magazine has a nice feature on Houston billionaire John Arnold's efforts to reform public-employee pension plans. Meanwhile, the House debate over Houston pensions ramps up Monday, and every minute it goes on, legislation on the other side of that bill on the calendar dies. The lower chamber, which yesterday ended their workday at 3 p.m., has mapped out a leisurely, care-free stroll toward the Thursday deadline for the House to consider House Bills, not the frenzied pace of work one would expect as hundreds of bills approach a very final deadline. At this point, the House doesn't seem to have much appetite for passing any more legislation and everybody just seems to want it to be over.

Who can settle Harris County bail litigation?
A newly elected Democratic District Judge in Houston has asked the commissioners court whether he can settle with plaintiffs in civil rights litigation against the county's money-based bail system. The commissioners courrt replied that they don't control whether or not he settles, but his lawyer was appointed from the county attorney's office and told the judge she could not settle without permission from higher ups. It's an interesting question: If individual judges start to settle, how long can the county's oppositional approach remain viable?

Of trees, ropes, race, judges and capital punishment
A decidedly un-woke judge faces retraining for lynching suggestion.

Coda to Willingham saga: Did prosecutor commit misconduct?
Jordan Smith at the Intercept has a story from a trial in Corsicana to determine whether the prosecutor in the Todd Willingham case engaged in misconduct when he concealed a deal with a jailhouse snitch who testified against the defendant.


Anonymous said...

Dude, way too much information to allow for proper commentary. Grits, I think you need a forum with a chat room. It will create better engagement with your readers and form community. Right now, you have a revolving door of anonymous commenters like me but with a forum, people could maintain at least an online persona. If you're interested, I'll help you set this up. Probably not, keep it simple, I know.

Anonymous said...

Black lawmakers should move to amend the Texas Public Information Act so that police shootings result in nearly immediate release of electronic recordings of police shootings both video and audio. While their existing recommended reforms are likely useful and noble, they are missing a great opportunity to consolidate support for overall police reform which could be shared with conservatives concerned about 4th Amendment rights. The full scope of the problem of police shootings in Texas is currently unknown. What is known is very troubling. This reform will pull back the curtain and allow journalists to uncover the complete picture what is actually going on. If Black lawmakers believe they have a mandate in light of the events of this past year to make legislative gains, they should realize they are looking at the problem through a keyhole and only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Open the aperture so the phenomenon of police shootings can be fully appreciate by all stakeholders. Release police recordings to the public so that Justice can be served.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

People can use an online persona here if they choose to, 10:47, but most choose anonymity.

Truth is, my blogging is down to about a quarter of the rate at this blog's height (check out the by-year post totals in the right hand column). The media world has changed mightily since 2004. So you're probably right that this forum is outdated. But changing it is pretty low on my priority list for now.

Wise Texan said...

Grits, have you ever considered a podcast? Even a short 10-15 minute show could be really good. I really think this blog is one of the few that I would continue to follow even as media continues to change. If you combined content in the podcast with information from your "Just Liberty" organization, you could really have something interesting which could really garner a relatively large following. Just a thought, I know you have a lot on your plate.

Olddeadmeat said...

I really appreciate you still running this blog, even if your output is down.

It's my goto resource for tracking the progress of criminal justice reform in Texas.

Anonymous said...

Re: Bill Killing
Looks like all bills having any thng to do w/the DRP have been left pending in committees to die.Such as SB 90. Question to Grits do the the committee members go through all the steps they do to move a bill along just to make the public think that they are, in this case trying to get rid of a bad law? If not what then? This is so sad.
Thank you

Anonymous said...

By definition, killing oneself is considered mental illness in most parts, the remaining folks likely seeing it as a huge red flag of such too. Bland had been arrested too many times and under too many different circumstances to believe she was acting in her own self interest, those acquainted with Texas politics warning you months ago that nothing substantial was going to come of this bill. Reform is needed but re-writing history doesn't help sell reform, check back in a few years to see if such needed changes will remain on the back burner.

Anonymous said...

Houston's pension bill was largely agreed upon weeks ago, the placement of the measure so late in the legislative process just another way for some to let various bills die on the vine, many you advocate would never have received the Governor's signature over objections from law enforcement and other stakeholders had they made it further in the process.

Marvin Doupel said...

Definitely need of the hour is a radical reform that should refrain police from committing such heinous acts. Killing the 15 years old earned the bad reputation for the police and perpetrator must be booked and tried.

Anonymous said...

Right now no one should get their hopes up for any type of police reform at all. Trump's appointment of Jeff Sessions will set the reform movement back decades. Just last week he ordered his prosecutors in the justice department to offer police officer Michael Slager a plea deal in which the most serious charges were dropped for a guilty plea to a civil rights offense for which Slager is expected to receive a maximum of ten-years in prison when he returns to court for sentencing. Instead of reform we should expect police officers to become even more emboldened and increase the rate at which they murder innocent, unarmed citizens.

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." - John F. Kennedy