Interim Update: January 2016

            Well, this year has really started off with a (lack of open carry related) bang, hasn’t it? Many questions, few answers, but even fewer actual incidents involving any kind of threat or violence. Let’s see if we can keep that streak going.

 

Guns and courthouses

            You’ve read the AG opinions, you’ve talked to your judges and commissioners, and you’ve made your decisions. Now everyone waits for the complaints and lawsuits. If you draw one of those black beans and intend to stand your ground, please let us know so we can track the various lawsuits filed across the state. We’ve also assembled some legal and legislative research that should help you prove that the Legislature made entire courthouses—not just courtrooms and court offices—firearms-free zones when it added the term “premises” to Penal Code §46.03 back in 2003. For more information, call or email Shannon.

 

Interim hearing recap

            There was a rash of interim hearings this month before legislators turn their full attention to the impending primaries. Here are various and sundry notes from some of those hearings:

  • The Joint Committee on Border Security reviewed DPS’s implementation of HB 11, the omnibus border security bill from last session. More interesting than anything that came out of that hearing, however, was a subsequent federal lawsuit filed by MALDEF seeking to enjoin enforcement of Penal Code §20.05 (Human Smuggling) and new §20.06 (Continuous Human Smuggling)—as amended/created by HB 11—on the grounds that they violate the Supremacy Clause, yada yada yada. Interestingly, the complaint names as defendants Governor Abbott (who the complaint states is the “chief law enforcement officer of the State of Texas”), DPS Director McCraw, and members of the state’s Public Safety Commission who oversee DPS. Not named in the lawsuit is anyone who actually, you know, files or prosecutes those cases. Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor this litigation for you as it proceeds.
  • The Senate Subcommittee on Border Security met to debate sanctuary cities (again). Or perhaps it was to debate Scripture’s insights into immigration, because that seemed to take up an unusually large portion of the committee’s time. Regardless, not much new came out of this hearing other than a reminder that banning sanctuary cities—a term that is still not clearly defined—will be a primary goal of some Senate Republicans next session.
  • Senate State Affairs met to learn about the implementation of HB 910 (open carry), SB 11 (campus carry) with an eye toward improving those new laws next session. The upshot of the hearing was that open carry has been relatively non-existent to date and that public university chancellors have gotten the signal loud and clear that they better not ban licensed concealed carry in classrooms or dorms, “or else.” Chairwoman Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was also clear that her committee was interested only in considering “tweaks” to the new laws—such as simplifying Penal Code §§30.06–30.07 signage—not wholesale changes. During the committee’s discussion, SB 273 (challenging gun free zone signage) was raised as a potential source of local conflict, but the unspoken consensus seemed to be to let the OAG complaint process run its course before reaching any conclusions about its merits. Similar confusion regarding law enforcement’s authority to unilaterally stop and question open carriers was raised, with the pros and cons of both sides of that issue being thoroughly discussed, but no guidance or clarity came from that debate.
  • The Senate Finance Committee met to hear an overview of the state’s fiscal outlook. The summary is that collapsing oil prices will have a negative impact on next session’s budget, but it is too soon to tell the scope of that impact and whether it will outstrip the money saved up in the state’s various piggy banks (Rainy Day Fund, etc.).
  • Senate Transportation members heard testimony on the Driver Responsibility Program (aka DPS surcharges). This topic is one of those increasingly common policy areas in which the far left and far right residents of the political spectrum agree—in this case, both think the program is a failure and should be scrapped. However, no one has suggested a new revenue stream to replace the DRP, which has brought in $1.5 billion since its inception in 2003 but which has also resulted in 1.2 million driver’s licenses currently being suspended due to uncollected surcharges. Until that revenue stream is replaced, don’t look for this program to go away anytime soon.

 

February hearings

            Here is a list of relevant interim committee hearings posted to date:

House Committee on Energy Resources
Wednesday, February 3, 2016, at 11:00 AM, The Petroleum Museum, Midland
Topic: Impact of declining oil prices; oil field theft prevention

 

House Committee on Corrections
Tuesday, February 9, 2016, at 9:30 AM, State Capitol, Room E2.028
Topic:  Diversion of non-violent drug offenders; TDCJ release/re-entry programs

Wednesday, February 10, 2016, at 9:30 AM, State Capitol, Room E2.028
Topic:  TDCJ anti-recidivism efforts

 

Senate Committee on State Affairs
Thursday, February 18, 2016, at 9:00 AM, State Capitol, Room E1.016
Topic: Judicial salaries; straight-ticket voting in judicial elections

 

If you have questions about any of these hearings, call or email Shannon for more information.

 

Asset forfeiture, the sequel.

            For those of you interested in this topic, know that efforts to repeal or reduce these programs will be re-doubled next session. For a sneak preview into how opponents of civil asset forfeiture view the issue, some of you may want to watch or attend a policy primer on the topic to be held in Irving on February 9, 2016, from 4:00–6:45 p.m. For more details on how to attend or watch it on live stream, visit “Civil Asset Forfeiture Summit: Understanding Forfeiture & When Innocence Does Not Help.” Several libertarian-leaning state legislators are scheduled to speak, along with representatives from like-minded groups such as Right on Crime (right), FreedomWorks (right), the Institute for Policy Innovation (right), and the ACLU (left). Needless to say, law enforcement officers and prosecutors need not apply for a speaking slot, but it could be an informative evening if you are unfamiliar with some advocates’ views of asset forfeiture.

 

Quotes of the month

 

“This next [session] may not be as easy as the last couple. … I see no reason to panic, although it might have helped if Comptroller Hegar had won the Powerball the other night.”
            —Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), referring to the effect oil prices will have on the 2017 session.

 

“It just makes poor people poorer.”
            —State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), on the state’s Driver Responsibility Program.

 

“I hope the right to walk around looking like Wyatt Earp is worth it to the open carry folks because a lot of us are losing our right to concealed carry and it may cost some of us our lives for your privilege to play cowboy.”
            —“LTUME1978,” a poster on TexasCHLForum.com, after the passage of open carry resulted in his workplace prohibiting guns to be carried at all.


“It’s almost like it’s not even a real punishment for a lot of people.”
            —Charles Crawford, death row inmate at San Quentin (CA) State Prison, where the death row population has swelled to more than 700 inmates after 10 years without an execution.

 

“It’s supposed to be a grassroots movement and it’s looking like one wealthy individual has taken control.”
            —Marie Howard, with the Keller Boiling Point Tea Party, upon learning that the (rival) NE Tarrant Tea Party got more than half its recent funding from Midland oilman Tim Dunn. This “fake grass roots” phenomenon is sometimes known as “astroturfing.”

 

“I would suggest he include our state’s innate right for Free Guacamole on Your Burrito When You Order a Burrito Without Cheese.”
            —Patrick Jenkins, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reader, commenting upon Gov. Abbott’s recent call for a constitutional convention to consider nine new amendments.

 

“I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t take it.”
            —John Key, newly re-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, explaining why he missed a congratulatory call from President Obama.

 

“I wouldn’t bet against me.”
            —State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, discussing the prospects of pre-trial release reforms that may be opposed by the judiciary and/or the bail bond industry next session.

 

“I think the image it puts out is ‘Look at me.’”
            —Darrol Vincent, a Houston-area gun and knife show customer, explaining what he thinks of the new open carry law.

 

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