Sunday, June 20, 2021

Abbott vetoes demonstrate continued antipathy toward #cjreform, bootlicking toward police unions

My better half, Kathy Mitchell, posted this on Facebook about Gov. Abbott's criminal-justice vetoes, and since I hadn't written anything on the subject yet, with her permission I'm re-posting it here. For a more sanguine perspective on what Grits has called the worst Texas legislative session on criminal justice in the 21st century, see Marc Levin's column in the SA Express News summarizing everything that passed which reformers might consider a (small) victory. Rep. Pacheco's HB 385 may be the most important of the bills that made it through (congratulations to Terra Tucker, who shepherded it through on behalf of the Alliance for Safety and Justice). But even this was small potatoes, especially in the watered down form in which it passed the Senate, compared to major reforms in years past or even that passed the House this time.

By contrast, most of the big stuff never made it to the governor, and here's how Kathy described the reform bills Abbott vetoed:

The Governor's vetoes are a final punch in the nose for the bipartisan criminal justice reform movement, and a clear reminder (in case we forgot for a second) that the 87th from start to finish has been mainly about Abbott's re-election on a platform of "tuff" on the poorest and most desperate among us.
Abbott vetoed SB 237, predictably, after announcing that he was clearing out a prison to hold migrants arrested for trespassing by his promised army of troopers. That bill would have added criminal trespass to the list of Class B offenses for which an officer could (discretion only) issue a citation instead of arresting.
Abbott vetoed HB 686, juvenile "second look" after even Dan Patrick found a version he could live with. The final bill allowed a person who committed a violent offense as a kid to get a review and possible release (just the possibility, that's it) after serving at least 30 years. Hardly soft on crime, and a bill supported by the Catholic Conference of Bishops, TPPF, Goodwill, United Way and a host of others. Who opposed? Only Ray Hunt on behalf of the Houston Police Association. Hmmmm....
Abbott vetoed HB 1240, a bill with no formal opposition at all. That bill would have authorized fire inspectors to issue citations over fire code violations the way health inspectors do. Apparently now, you have to be a sworn police officer. A bill that would have empowered other public safety agencies to make the public safer without having to use police....Hmmmmm....
Abbott vetoed SB 281 that would have finally ended a police investigative technique from the 70s and 80s called forensic hypnosis. Which is pretty much what it sounds like. A "specially trained" police officer applies hypnosis to a witness or suspect and elicits, well mostly garbage. Because...hypnosis.
Finally, and this is the one that, for me, shows Abbott's hand. He vetoed HB 787 that would have allowed formerly incarcerated people and people on probation to get together (without violating terms of probation against fraternizing with criminals) for purposes of "(1) working with community members to address criminal justice issues; (2) offering training and programs to assist formerly incarcerated persons; and (3) advocating for criminal justice reform, including by engaging with state and local policy makers."
It appears that the voices of the formerly incarcerated were very effective this session, so we can't have any more of that.
I could not find any veto messages for these bills posted yet, just the fact of the veto listed on the Capitol website. So if the Governor has anything useful to say for himself, I'll add more later. For now, these vetoes kind of speak for themselves.


mrmarclv said...

The veto messages have now been posted. While I share your deep disappointment at the veto of HB686, the veto message ( does suggest support for the concept of the bill. HB686 was stronger and clearer before the Senate changes, and I am hopeful the House version or comparable language can pass in a special session later this year.

In addition to the points you made about HB787, the bill also only applied if the activities are approved by the probation director. I think peer support groups are valuable in reducing recidivism and promoting positive outcomes. Also, part of the recognizing the dignity of people on community supervision requires that they be able to advocate on their own behalf. So I hope, despite the veto, judges do not impose conditions that prevent this. While HB787 focused on probation, I discussed this matter in my paper a couple of years ago in the parole context ( where I noted Texas is actually is better in this area than other states.

Anonymous said...

There is something so nauseating about Abbott's sucking up to law enforcement when he himself didn't have the backbone and integrity to stand up to the law-breaking hairdresser Shelley Luther who grand-standed her way to Republican stardom by flouting coronavirus precautions last year. And what is so nutty about this last session is that some perfectly good bits of legislation never progressed and died on the vine. For instance, attempts have been made for years now to remove a particularly confusing provision from the death penalty sentencing statute (the "10-12" rule which misleads jurors about how many votes are needed to achieve a result one way or another). Jurors are sometimes furious or devastated to discover post-trial that they were misled. For about the third time running that legislative tweak, which has had strong support on both sides -- how often can you say that? -- has gone nowhere. Beyond pathetic.

jarenaud said...

Marc, you're totally correct in that Texas parole is one of the more lax states when it comes to imposing "association" prohibitions. All parole usually asks is that we don't associate with people of "dubious moral character" which includes most of the damned lege. However, when I first wrote HB787 it was because, while recruiting FIPs for Texas Advocates for Justice membership, lots of folks on probation were saying their POs had told them specifically to NOT associate with others on supervision. We talked to the then-Travis County head of probation who said he had no objection to that association but he would not communicate that with his individual POs. As Kathy says, the formerly incarcerated folks in the policy arena are pretty effective, although few of them are on probation or parole still (I'm on parole until 2051.) The bill was watered down from it's original version, had NO opposition this time, and Abbott still vetoed it.) Sigh.

mrmarclv said...

Jorge, thanks for the tremendous work you and others, particularly those who have been or are under supervision, did on HB787.

I appreciate the context you added. While I do hope that just bringing this up at the Legislature helps change practice (I believe this occurred with solitary confinement as numbers were reduced following discussion of bills at the Legislature several years ago even though nothing passed), I certainly think the bill is needed and disagree with the veto message in which the objection was that it unduly interfered with judicial discretion.

There is a need to put some boundaries on conditions in this area which does, after all, concern activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, it has been demonstrated time and again that probation agencies do not work well in jurisdictions where there are effectively judicial fiefdoms in which the probation experience varies widely from one court to another. For this reason, several years ago CSG helped Bexar County move away from this model. In addition to creating a disparity for people on probation based on the random fact of which court their case is in, it creates confusion for probation officers who have cases in many different courts.

Hopefully, it can be passed again next session and there can be a conversation with the Governor's office about these considerations.

Gary said...

Shelly Luther did not break any law....defied a public safety order, not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Now do all the criminal justice reform bills passed by the House that Lt. Gov. Patrick sat on to run out the clock or sent to Senate Jurisprudence, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman, to die. Joan Huffman and Dan Patrick are the biggest impediments to rational criminal justice and drug policy in this state. Along with Greg Abbott, they all need to get the boot.