Interim Legislative Update - February 2012
February 24, 2012
Do you know what the best news we received this month is? Governor Perry has publicly rejected requests to call a special session on education funding. That may not be good for public schools, but it’s great for those of us who would have to waste spend time at the Capitol during such a session watching for random policy fires that need to be put out. But enough of our personal issues, let’s get on to the news from February (which we’re sending out a week early due to some time-sensitive information included below).
Primary election dates. Nothing dramatic has occurred in the past week on this front, so we won’t bore you with old news. Talks of a split primary have apparently died a quiet death (mainly due to lack of funds), but no primary election date (or new filing period) has been set. The earliest the election could be held is probably Tuesday, May 29, with run-offs held July 31 (if necessary), but even those dates are contingent on maps being finalized by this time next week, which is a crapshoot. These delays create problems for the two political parties and their conventions, but that ain’t our problem (although if they need tips on how to put on a re-scheduled convention on short notice, our hurricane-tested Training Team has written the book on pulling that kind of rabbit out of the hat!). The federal court panel is currently reviewing briefs on several contested Congressional and state House districts, but it is unknown when it will make a final decision on a primary election date. Local election administrators told the court that they need finalized maps by March 3 to pull off a May 29 election. If that deadline is blown, the next likeliest date is June 26. For those of you keeping score at home, a June 26 primary would make Texas the last state in the Union to hold its presidential primary election this year (tied with Utah). Check TDCAA’s website and Twitter feed for breaking news on this front, or if you are a true redistricting junkie, be sure to bookmark http://txredistricting.org/ for the inside scoop.
CJIS reporting and grants. TDCAA recently participated in another meeting with DPS and the Governor’s CJD regarding the latter office’s grant ultimatum on criminal history disposition reporting that we discussed last month. Here’s what we learned from this meeting:
- In the past 30 days, 11 counties have improved their 5-year reporting ratio to 90 percent or greater.
- The new “absconder” code is now active and being accepted by DPS. All counties were notified of the change by last week, but if you did not get that update, contact your local DPS representative (for contact information, see the attachment found on our website at http://www.tdcaa.com/content/cjis-information). Remember, when you use the new code, be sure your court has issued—and your sheriff has uploaded—the absconder’s warrant into the state’s database; otherwise, you won’t get credit for it.
- Some counties have a significant number of entries (20–40 percent) rejected due to errors created by their local information systems. In other words, the human properly enters the records, but technical errors prevent them from being accepted by DPS. And according to DPS, many county officials are unaware of the problem because their local IT people do not tell them about the errors. If you are not already receiving these error reports, you should request them from your IT vendors and/or DPS. Fixing those problems will increase your successful reporting completion rate.
Those are the highlights of last week’s meeting. We will touch base with DPS and CJD in a few weeks to get an update on the latest numbers after the absconder codes start trickling in. Meanwhile, CJD says it has not had many takers on its offer to award grant funds to help counties become compliant with the 90-percent reporting goal. If your county hasn’t already asked for CJD’s help, you should consider doing so ASAP. Otherwise, if you have any specific questions on this topic, contact Shannon.
Interim hearings. The House Appropriations Committee got its first report from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) previewing the revenue estimates for the FY 2014–2015 state budget. The good news? Revenue growth from an improving state economy, driven largely by higher energy commodity prices and improved consumer spending, means that Texas budget writers could have $1.6 billion more to spend during the next biennium, plus an additional $7.3 billion in the Rainy Day Fund with which to play. (Side note: Texas has now created enough new jobs to offset all those lost from the recession; nationally, only 36 percent of lost jobs have been replaced. Yay, us!) The bad news? By August 2013, the current budget (FY 2012-2013) will be almost $4 billion in the hole due to increased Medicaid costs alone, not to mention shortfalls caused by wildfire losses, prisoner health care, and other potholes, both anticipated and unanticipated. (And none of this includes restoring any of the cuts made last session to public or higher education.) There is as yet no word on how everything will work out, but it’s a safe bet that money won’t be growing on the trees lining the Capitol grounds next session.
Looking ahead, the following hearings have been announced for subsequent weeks:
House Border & Intergovernmental Affairs: Joint hearing on border security with the House Homeland Security & Public Affairs Committee, March 1–2 at the McAllen Convention Center, Room 101.
Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking: Monday, March 5, at 10:00 a.m. in Room E1.036 in the Capitol Extension to review implementation of bills passed last session and to receive an update from the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force administered by the AG’s Office. (Note that this meeting has not been officially posted yet.)
House Corrections: Tuesday, March 6, at 10:00 a.m. in Room E2.014 in the Capitol Extension, to discuss these juvenile justice topics:
- Review the implementation of SB 653 (which created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department) and make recommendations to enhance the integration of the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission;
- Study ways to reduce the number of juvenile referrals (including mental health services, diversion and early intervention programs, and other prevention methods); and
- Study and make recommendations related to the certification of juveniles as adults.
If you would like to weigh in on any of these issues, contact Shannon ASAP.
House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence: Thursday, March 15, at 10:00 a.m. in Room E2.010, Capitol Extension, to take invited testimony on the pros/cons of allowing courts to issue agreed protective orders without a finding of violence. (Again, to find out how to get “invited,” contact Shannon.)
News from the swamp. We purposely don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in Washington, D.C.—mostly in an effort to maintain our sanity, but also because we aren’t equipped to do business up there, unlike groups like the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA). However, we are occasionally asked to get word out to Texas prosecutors about developments on Capitol Hill. Recently, someone enlisted us to alert Texas prosecutors to a measure that would create a National Criminal Justice Commission. This Commission would review every aspect of our criminal justice system—federal, state, and local—with an eye toward reshaping the country’s criminal justice system from top to bottom. Language creating the commission was most recently defeated by a three-vote margin in October 2011, with both Texas senators voting against the measure and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson speaking in opposition to it. The issue is now in limbo until supporters can find another vehicle for passing the measure (such as a FY 2013 spending bill) while opponents try to gather letters in opposition from local officials in preparation for future amendments. If you are interested in participating in that debate, visit http://www.tdcaa.com/content/information-proposed-national-criminal-justice-commission-aka-webb-commission for more information and/or contact Shannon.
Details on new DPS lab reports. By now, all offices that use DPS’s Crime Lab should have received a letter from DPS Lab Director Pat Johnson regarding its new lab reports, which will include information regarding margins of error and sampling size as required by a national accrediting body. The reports should be in use at all DPS labs by the end of March. If you have not received that letter, you can view a sample copy of those and other changes at http://www.tdcaa.com/news/information-new-dps-lab-reports.
New training. TDCAA is excited to host its first-ever Domestic Violence seminar April 11–13 at the Omni Colonnade in San Antonio. The training features state- and nationally-recognized experts in the field of domestic violence and will include split tracks (Basic and Advanced) on Thursday to provide exactly the level of training your office may need. Register at www.tdcaa.com/training today!
Free training. The CCA’s Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, under the direction of Judge Barbara Hervey, will offer a free CLE seminar on mental health issues in the criminal justice system. The seminar will be held March 22–23 at the Texas State Capitol Auditorium. For additional details about this course (which is co-sponsored by TDCAA), download this PDF file: http://www.cca.courts.state.tx.us/tcjiu/pdf/Flyer2012.pdf.
Quote of the month. “I don’t want a lot from politics. I just don’t want people dumber than me telling me what to do. I guess that’s asking a lot, actually.” —Frank J. Fleming, NY Post humorist and arrogant blogger.