Monday, May 03, 2021

The #TexasGeorgeFloydAct: What component bills are still moving in the #txlege homestretch?

Over the weekend, your correspondent put together an update on the status of all the various bills that make up the Texas George Floyd Act for the 65-group coalition promoting them, so let's re-post it here for Grits readers who may be interested. There are four weeks to go in the legislative session, so all these bills are in the make-or-break home stretch.

The Texas George Floyd Act, as distinct from federal legislation by the same name, fundamentally has eight component parts. These have also been broken up into individual, stand-alone legislation, and six of the eight have passed at least one chamber in the Texas Legislature and still have a chance to pass in 2021:

GFA Components:
Ban arrests for traffic offenses
Ban chokeholds
Improve use-of-force standards
Duty to render aid
Duty to intervene
Qualified immunity
Disciplinary matrix
Corroboration in drug cases

Here’s a list of individual bills still moving as of May 2, 2021, along with a summation of what’s not:

HB 830: Banning Class C arrests. This bill was scaled back in committee to ban arrests only for traffic offenses in the Transportation Code. Still, this change would have eliminated roughly 95% of the 64,000 arrests at Texas traffic stops in 2019. The bill passed the Texas House with a bipartisan vote of 113-18, including 57 Democrats and 56 Republicans. It has yet to be referred to committee in the senate.

SB 69: Banning chokeholds and neck restraints by police unless it “is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to or the death of the officer or another person.” The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is not yet scheduled for a hearing in the House.

HB 833: Improving use of force standards to require an imminent threat. This legislation did not make it out of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and probably can no longer pass this session.

SB 2212: Duty to render aid. This legislation passed out of the senate unanimously, but could be improved to clear up some ambiguity around when the duty is triggered. Officers should render aid unless there’s an “imminent threat.” Alternatively, their duty to render aid to injured members of the public should be the same as when a police officer is injured. It has been referred to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and there will be a public hearing May 5th.

SB 68: Duty to intervene. This legislation requires law enforcement to intervene when they witness excessive force when a list of four qualifying factors are met. We believe meeting any of these factors justifies intervention and the bill need modest amendment to achieve its goals. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on May 5th.

HB 614: Qualified Immunity: Creating a new cause of action for civil rights violations that bypasses qualified immunity was one of the most prominent demands in the original Texas George Floyd Act. But it has received the most pushback of all and has not moved in either chamber.

HB 829: Creating a disciplinary matrix to ensure fair punishment. In civil service cities, a common excuse for arbitrators overturning police-officer discipline is punishment that differs from other cases. This bill requires those departments to have a disciplinary matrix specifying presumed punishments, and tells arbitrators punishments within those ranges must be presumed reasonable. This will make it easier for chiefs to fire bad cops and make it stick. This bill has yet to be referred to committee in the senate.

HB 834: Corroboration of police testimony in drug cases. This legislation reacts to George Floyd’s conviction based on the testimony of corrupt Houston narcotics officer Gerald Goines in a case with a fabricated informant. This is another bill that passed out of the Texas House with solid bipartisan support, this legislation enjoyed support in the lower chamber from the Sheriffs Association of Texas and the Texas Police Chiefs Association. This bill has yet to be referred to committee in the senate.


For more background, check out the special, two-part podcast from Just Liberty on the Texas George Floyd Act: Here's Part One and Part Two.

UPDATE (5/5): The three senate bills discussed above all passed out of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee today (SB 69 was added via a rules suspension) with support from the police unions but tepid backing from police-reform advocates, several of whom testified "on" rather than "for" the legislation. The duty to render aid bill lets officers delay assistance until the scene is fully secured, whatever that means. (For my money, Grits thinks they should be taught to "render aid" with the same alacrity and preconditions as if it were an officer who's wounded.) Meanwhile the duty to intervene applies only to excessive force, not other types of misconduct (e.g., fabricating informants, as allegedly happened in George Floyd's Houston drug case). The original Texas-George-Floyd-Act versions were broader. These are probably still an improvement over current law, barely, but the lowest-possible-impact versions of such improvements. With that said, the same committee earlier passed a governor-and-police-union-backed mandate for training on duties to render aid and intervene that the Attorney General says don't currently exist (the police unions disagree). So putting these duties formally on the books is important. But the versions passed by the senate are pretty weak tea.


Tom said...

If you want to clean up policing, just do two things. First, make governments that hire cops civilly liable under a respondeat superior theory. If Exxon is liable for negligence by a truck driver who is in a traffic accident in the course of his employment, why shouldn't government be equally liable when a police officer it hires and gives a badge and a gun violates a person's civil rights.
Second, if you want, give the individual police officer qualified immunity but deny it to the city under the respondeat superior theory of liability.
Cities and counties won't have to write too many multimillion checks after civil trials before they improve police training and increase supervision of officers. A lot of bad cops will lose their jobs.

Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered and Uncensored Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

I can agree with Tom @ 5/03/21 on the matter respondent superior theory but adamantly opposed to any concept of the theory of qualified immunity which violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when it does not provide similar protection to those victims of official assault and malicious prosecution.

I would add to Tom's position that to clean up policing requires the elimination of civil service unions and similar associations in that peace officers are public officers and have no special rights that are not provided others and internal affairs are restricted to determining matters that only violate administrative directives and Meet and Confer policies are in violation of the Texas Government Code.

Additionally, as public officers peace officers are required to reapply every two years as required by the Texas Constitution.