Interim Legislative Update - December 2011
December 16, 2011
The primaries are less than three months away—for now. We don't know about you, but nothing puts us in the holiday mood more than some good old-fashioned political mud-slinging. Cheers!
Are we done yet? Apparently not—at least in regard to the campaign filing period. The original deadline for filing for a spot in a 2012 election was December 12. That was extended by the courts to December 15 (a.k.a., "yesterday") due to the redistricting mess. But now, once again, a court hearing one of the redistricting disputes has granted another extension, making Monday, December 19 (at 6:00 p.m.) the final deadline to file for all elected offices, including yours. Now, despite this new deadline, the filing period may be re-opened (or should that be "re-re-opened?") for legislative and congressional races once the final maps are settled upon, then close for good around February 1 (or so the rumor goes), but who knows how that will work.
Due to this uncertainty, the court has ruled that any candidate who has filed to run for a particular office may change or amend his or her ballot application in any way the candidate deems appropriate, including changing the office being sought or withdrawing his or her ballot application and seeking a refund of the filing fee. (Again, how that will work in practice is unknown.) And for now, the two political parties and the court are undecided about whether there should be one primary or two and about the date(s) of the primary/primaries—although as we write this today, the two parties are rumored to have agreed to jointly recommend to the court a single primary date of April 3. This stuff changes by the hour, so while we follow these machinations as interested observers, we aren't glued to the proceedings like our job depends upon it. Therefore, those of you who are directly affected by these changes are best served by consulting your local political parties for all the details.
Senate interim charges. The Lt. Governor is announcing his interim studies to his committees in piecemeal fashion, issue by issue. Earlier this month, he assigned the following border security-related issues to these committees:
• Money laundering [including a reference to "administrative and criminal actions," which may re-open discussions from 2009 about the "racketeering" bill]
Transportation & Homeland Security
• The impact of border violence and illegal trafficking on the Texas economy
• The role of Texas state military forces along the border
Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking
• Services available/needed for human trafficking victims
• Appropriate criminal penalties for young human trafficking victims of prostitution
No word yet on when any of these committees will start meeting on these issues. For more information, you can view the original press release here.
Important new grant conditions from CJD. Remember back in 2009, when the Legislature amended CCP Arts. 60.10 and 60.21 to require counties to report at least 90 percent of CJIS-related dispositions to DPS? At that time, we told you that the only "remedy" for those who failed to get their ducks in a row was being forced to sit through a meeting of local officials to decide who was to blame. Well, now the Governor's Criminal Justice Division (CJD)—which provides Justice Assistance Grants to local governmental and non-governmental agencies—has decided to impose a new remedy. According to a recent e-mail memorandum from that division, as of September 1, 2012, any county that does not have a 90-percent or better disposition completeness rate for 2006–2010 will be ineligible for CJD grants, as will any political subdivision within that non-compliant county—including prosecutors' offices. Furthermore, effective September 1, 2013, any public or private entity (including child advocacy centers, Crime Stoppers, etc.) in a county that does not report at 90 percent or above will also be ineligible to receive grants from CJD.
The genesis of this new mandate is a recent CJIS audit performed by the State Auditor's Office. To see how your county has fared to date, view the latest reporting compliance data. TDCAA has been in contact with TAC and other groups who intend to bring their concerns about this new policy to CJD's attention after the holidays, and we will keep you posted as we learn new information.
Terms of court. We have received numerous questions of late regarding a statewide change to district court terms that will take effect on January 1, 2012. Pursuant to HB 79, which passed during the First Special Session, every district court will now have two (and only two) terms of court. The first term of court begins on the first Monday in January, while the second term of court begins on the first Monday in July. That schedule differs from the existing terms of some courts, so this new law raises a question about grand juries impaneled by those courts that are in the middle of a current term on January 1, 2012, and whether they retain the power to act until the end of the originally-scheduled term. We have been answering that question in the negative, as has the Office of Court Administration. (For OCA's complete answer, see Director Carl Reynolds' CourTex blog entry on this subject, with which we concur.) Accordingly, those shortened grand juries should wrap up their business by the end of the year, and new grand juries must be impaneled sometime after January 2, 2012. If you have further questions about this change, feel free to contact TDCAA for more information.
Open records changes afoot. If you haven't already heard, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is creating an electronic filing system designed to streamline and modernize governmental bodies' submission of ruling requests to the Open Records Division. The new system, which will be available for use in February 2012, will allow governmental bodies to submit their requests electronically through the system. Interested third parties that wish to submit briefing materials supporting or opposing governmental bodies' ruling requests will also be able to submit their documentation electronically. As a result, as of January 3, 2012, the Open Records Division will no longer accept faxed or emailed submissions from governmental bodies or interested third parties; governmental bodies who choose not to use the new electronic filing system must instead submit their documents to the OAG through First-Class U.S. Mail, common or contract carrier, interagency mail, or hand delivery during normal business hours. If you have questions about requesting an attorney general open records decision and/or submitting materials for OAG review, you can contact the OAG's toll-free Open Government Hotline at (877) OPEN-TEX. More information about the electronic filing system may be found here.
E-books are now available! TDCAA is now offering electronic versions of the Texas Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple's iTunes. Each book contains the code with strikethrough/underline format, plus all the annotations from TDCAA's Criminal Laws of Texas. The Penal Code is available for $9.99, and the Code of Criminal Procedure is $25. TDCAA is testing the sales and usefulness of these e-books, and after one sales cycle, we will evaluate whether to offer any additional publications as e-books. For now, only the PC and CCP are available, and they may be bought individually through only the three vendors listed above. Search for "Diane Beckham" on any of the vendor sites to find the TDCAA e-books.
@TDCAA. Having once before tried and failed to capture the magic of social media, TDCAA is again stepping off into the great unknown with a new and improved Twitter feed. This one has been open to the public for the past few weeks, and responses have been positive. Follow us @TDCAA if you have a Twitter account, but even if you don't have a Twitter account of your own, you can still click on the link in the upper right-hand corner of this page and keep abreast of the latest news affecting Texas prosecutors.
Quotes of the month. Some political cheer to end the year ...
"I don't know where I'm going to run. I don't know where to file, what district I live in, or what district goes where."
—Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi), commenting upon the redistricting mess in Texas.
"That's one of the things that I like about him, because he's been consistent since he changed his mind."
—Christine O'Donnell, former senate candidate from Delaware (and definitely not a witch), telling CNN why she endorsed Mitt Romney.
"I'm not going to kiss his ring and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy. This is exactly what is wrong with politics. It's show business over substance."
—Jon Huntsman, telling Fox News why he wouldn't appear at Donald Trump's proposed debate between GOP presidential candidates.
"It's too late for Perry. ... Even those who want to like Perry based on his positions or his Texas record can't do it because he's been such an incompetent candidate."
—Fergus Cullen, former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman, as told to the Houston Chronicle.
"All he had to do was make a respectable showing and he would have been anointed. All he had to do was walk and talk and chew gum and he would have won it. This race was Perry's to lose."
—John Podhoretz, conservative columnist, on Rick Perry's campaign missteps.
"This guy's rich."
—Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, referring to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, whose recent financial disclosures during his race for U.S. Senate revealed a net worth in the neighborhood of $225 million.
"To save electricity costs, this year the maintenance staff plans to illuminate the [White House Christmas] tree with dimmer bulbs. They are screwing members of Congress into the light sockets."
—Argus Hamilton, political comedian
That's all for this month year. It's been a wild one! We hope you have found these updates to be informative, useful, and (sometimes) entertaining. We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season. See you in 2012!