Interim Legislative Update - March 2012
March 28, 2012
Primary elections are eight weeks away. Let the drama commence!
Elected prosecutor retirement benefits. Remember that double-dipping retirement issue that came to light when Governor Perry was on the presidential campaign trail? Well, as it turns out, some elected felony prosecutors may benefit from the same provision of state law. If you have questions about that, give Rob Kepple a call at TDCAA.
Assistant prosecutor loan repayment update. It’s that time of year again—time for us to report that federal funding for the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program (JRJSLRP) is being slashed again. Not cut—slashed. Let us show you what we mean, keeping in mind that the federal law requires the prosecution and defense in each state to divide the total award 50/50, even though Texas has many more prosecutors than public defenders:
Total award to Texas
No. of prosecutor awards
Amount of each award
Federal FY 2010
Federal FY 2011
Federal FY 2012*
* = projected
In other words, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) will have a whopping $56,056 to divide among all Texas prosecutors. To distribute that in something resembling a fair way that also honors the three-year commitment of the original awards, THECB is likely to give all 121 current recipients a chance to apply for an award next year, with the final amount of the award dependent upon how many re-applications they receive. Nothing is set in stone, however; the next application period will not open until this fall at the earliest, so all of this is subject to change. If you have questions about the program, you can contact Lesa Moller, Director of Loan Repayment Programs at THECB, at 512/427-6366. Ms. Moller has done outstanding work for Texas’ prosecutors on this issue and is a great resource if you need additional information.
CJIS reporting and grants. Nothing new to report here. (Sorry, but Shannon was too busy tending to his new baby to do much work on the issue this month.) Another status meeting will be held in April and we will report the results in next month’s update. Once again, if your county hasn’t already asked for financial help from the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division to get your county up to snuff, you should consider doing so ASAP. Contact Shannon at TDCAA for more information on how to do that, or for any other questions you may have.
Interim hearings. The following committees held interim hearings in March on topics that might interest you; click on each committee name for the video archive of the hearing:
House Corrections reviewed the creation of the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) and heard testimony on the pros and cons of restricting juvenile certifications. (Our best guess is that such a proposal won’t be recommended by the committee due to its negative fiscal impact to the state budget, but anything is possible.)
House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence heard testimony on the pros and cons of codifying courts’ ability to issue agreed protective orders without a finding of violence, as proposed by last session’s HB 3172, which passed the House but ran out of time in the Senate. Prosecutors and judges were mildly criticized at the hearing for current practices in certain parts of the state, but the issue was ultimately punted to the care of Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) to come up with a consensus solution.
Looking ahead, the following hearing has been announced for subsequent weeks:
Senate Criminal Justice: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 10:00 a.m., E1.016 (Capitol Extension), to hear invited and public testimony on money laundering (Charge 1) and prescription drug abuse (Charge 6).
In addition, the Sunset Advisory Commission will start its review hearings on Tuesday, April 10, with a five-agency group that includes the Ethics Commission and the Commission on Judicial Conduct. And put this date on your calendar: Tuesday, June 5 will mark the sunset review hearings on TDCJ and related agencies (including the Board of Pardons and Paroles). Stay tuned for more about that in May’s interim update.
New rules for biological evidence are coming. Those who attended our legislative updates last summer may remember a brief discussion about Senate Bill 1616, which requires DPS to develop a statewide standard for the collection, storage, preservation, and retrieval of biological evidence by September 1, 2012. To accomplish this gargantuan task, DPS has invited TDCAA and other stakeholder entities to participate in a small working group that will develop an initial draft policy that will then be published for public comment and revision before eventual adoption by DPS. If you have a specific interest or expertise in this area and would like to be kept abreast of that policy as it develops, please email Shannon at TDCAA.
Get some 21st-Century training from TDCAA. We are in a digital age, and the “‘CSI ’ effect” means juries are looking for digital evidence and cutting-edge presentations like those they see on TV. How can you keep up? By coming to TDCAA’s Visual Trials and Digital Evidence seminar in Ft. Worth (Radisson—Fossil Creek) to be held June 13-15, 2012. Limited to only 100 attendees, this in-depth conference will focus on retrieving digital evidence for a criminal trial and properly presenting it to today’s jurors. You will learn the basics of visual presentations, how to use courtroom hardware, the latest software for presentations and audio/video editing, legal predicates for digital evidence, and how to present that evidence for maximum jury impact. Registration is now open, so go to http://www.tdcaa.com/training and sign up for this course today!
Annual conference hotel status. Here is a quick update regarding available hotel rooms for this year’s Annual Update in South Padre, September 19-21:
The Pearl South Padre (the old Sheraton): SOLD OUT (800/222-4010)
Isla Grand (the old Radisson): SOLD OUT (956/761-6511
Hilton Garden Inn: SOLD OUT (956/761-8700)
Holiday Inn Express: $86.00/night $99.00/night; call 956/761-8844 (corrected 4/3)
Howard Johnson: $63/night; call 956/761-5658
La Quinta Beach Resort: $75.99/night; call 956/772-9311
Travel Lodge: $69.99/night; call 956/761-4744
Most of the reservations at the already sold-out hotels are made a full year in advance of the Annual, so rooms at those hotels may free up as we get closer to the seminar dates. It never hurts to check, but if you haven’t made your plans yet, don’t put all your eggs in that basket and risk getting caught without a place to stay!
Pre-trial detention conference. The Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association is hosting an invitation-only conference on pre-trial detention practices in Texas this Friday (March 30) in Austin, and they are looking for prosecutors who would like to attend and/or participate. To get invited to the conference, follow the instructions provided in the document found on our website at http://www.tdcaa.com/news/aba-conference-pre-trial-detention-coming-austin-week. (Sorry for the late notice; that was partly our fault.)
Forensic science conference. The Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit (TCJIU) and the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) will jointly host a two-day forensic science conference on June 4-5, 2012 at the Texas State Capitol. The course will provide 13.5 hours of free CLE (including one hour of ethics). For details—including an agenda and a registration form—visit http://www.tdcaa.com/news/free-forensic-science-cle-conference.
Help wanted. For the last six years, TDCAA’s Shannon Edmonds has served on the State Bar’s Committee on Legal Services to the Poor. His term ends later this year, so this criminal defense-heavy committee will soon be in need of representation from our side of the bar. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, review the committee’s website and then contact Shannon at Shannon.Edmonds@tdcaa.com or 512/474-2436.
Twitter update. We’ve passed the 200-follower mark and are picking up speed. (Kim Kardashian, watch your back!) To see what all the buzz is about, visit our Twitter account at https://twitter.com/TDCAA.
Quote of the month. “A normal day is grinding boredom, loud talking, screaming, TVs at full volume, rampant stupidity on both sides of the bars. It’s like a bunch of drunken 2-year-olds.”
—Michael Morton, exoneree, describing prison life to the Texas Tribune during his current media tour to promote “prosecutor accountability.”
 John Patrick Edmonds, DOB 3/13/12 and doing great, thank you for asking! -SE