Update: May 26, 2011
Due to this weekend's holiday—which we do NOT get to enjoy, thanks to these @#$%&!s who won't leave Austin until Monday afternoon—we are issuing this update one day early. (If you find yourself not having good Memorial Day holiday, just stop and think how little fun you'd have sitting in Austin watching the Legislature screw things up, and you should feel much better in no time.) Note that after the session ends on Monday, your TDCAA legislative crew will take off a few well-earned vacation days, but we'll follow up late next week with an initial summary of bills that may merit your attention for possible vetoes.
Picking up after the storm
The session doesn't end until Monday, but everything important to us (aside from the budget) is done now except for the yelling and finger-pointing. Following the imposition of last night's deadlines, the only bills still alive are those that have been passed by both chambers in different forms, requiring one chamber to agree to the other's changes or form a conference committee to hash out the differences. That all happens behind closed doors, so most of our next four days will be spent watching them on TV, hoping no one tries to slip yet another fast one by us. Once the dust has settled completely, we'll see what bad stuff they tried to do to you and start a list of bills for you to review for potential vetoes, which must be issued by the governor no later than Sunday, June 19. We'll also try to summarize what happened to some of the bills we've been following all session. If you are wondering what happened to a bill you've been following, feel free to email Shannon to have it included in the list.
We've predicted all year long that there would be a special session over something, even if we never predicted what that something would be. It is still conceivable that legislators could pull a rabbit out of their hat on the budget, but the odds of that are unknown right now. Special sessions are called at the whim of the governor, and the topics discussed during those special sessions are determined solely by the governor, so we won't hazard a guess at any of that right now. Just know that if there is a special session, we will provide you with the same weekly updates you get now, and that our publication and training schedules will continue as planned despite the Legislature's inability to get its work done on time.
DA apportionment funding cuts for FY 2011
Every session, the Legislature considers an appropriation clean-up bill—also known as the "supplemental budget"—that adjusts the finances for the state in the last few months of the current fiscal year. No one usually notices that bill—until now. In order to help the FY 2011 budget limp to August 31st without a deficit, the Senate just approved HB 4, this year's supplemental budget, which includes a 2.5 percent across-the-board cut in most state expenditures for the remainder of this fiscal year. This does not include any of your salaries, supplements, or longevity pay, but it does include DA apportionment funding. The Senate's version of the bill hasn't been approved by the House or sent to the Governor yet, but state agencies like the Comptroller's Office are under instructions to implement the cuts now in anticipation of final passage. If for some reason the bill doesn't become law and the money is available, the Comptroller will be able to "catch up" in July and/or August, but that is unlikely. We had not previously reported on this matter because it was in such a state of flux this session that we never knew what was eventually going to happen, but now we feel confident enough to provide you with information you can rely upon to some degree. And by the way, the folks in the Judiciary Section of the Comptroller's Office are truly sorry about this; they generally take good care of you and hate this almost as much as you do!
The new math
This session's infusion of Tea Party sentiment in the legislative process has affected the standard law and order calculus that we use to gauge the potential fate of various bills. That "Tea Party sentiment" can be boiled down to this: "The government is the enemy. You work for the government. Do the math." Think we're kidding? Earlier this session, unsuspecting prosecutors who came to testify on a bill that would impair your budgets had to fend off a chairman who equated prosecutors with the Mafia, prompting one DA to profess surprise that he had apparently traded his white hat for a black one when he entered the Capitol. But that was just one early incident; let us share with you a more recent example.
Earlier this week, SB 1717 by Duncan/Lewis, an omnibus judicial reform bill, became what we call a "Christmas tree," so named because of all the amendments that other members tried to "hang" on it. Many of those amendments were formerly dead bills, including HB 1507 by Christian, a prosecutor-supported bill that would authorize non-lawyer JPs to issue evidentiary search warrants in smaller counties. Once offered, the amendment immediately started taking fire from several House members—urban and rural, Democrat and Republican—who expressed concerns about expansive searches, especially relating to blood draws in DWI cases. Now, there has always been some generalized resistance at the capitol to the existence of non-lawyer magistrates, but this time, the anti-government Tea Party effect crystallized that opposition into a solid voting bloc that defeated the amendment by a stunning vote of 17-121. As a result, the author of the amendment joined the ignominious "100 Club" for putting forth a matter that drew over 100 "nay" votes. We bring this to your attention because it is only one of several indications that things are changing at the state capitol. Just be glad that we passed some blood draw legislation last session, because if we hadn't, that bill would be D.O.A. this session. And that, friends, is the new legislative math for the foreseeable future.
OK, time for the relentless march of bill numbers for the rest of this update ...
Signed into law
Unlike the federal system, Texas' weak-governor system doesn't require the chief executive to sign a law before it goes into effect. Instead, a bill passed by the Legislature becomes law without the governor's signature unless that officer vetoes that bill. However, that doesn't stop a governor from signing into laws most bills—after all, how can a governor take credit for something if he doesn't at least rubber-stamp it? Accordingly, the following bills have been passed and signed into law and will become effective on September 1, 2011, unless otherwise noted: HB 905 (child hearsay statements admissible in protective order proceedings), HB 1806 (fishing tournament fraud; effective May 21, 2011), SB 24 (human trafficking), SB 653 (creating Texas Juvenile Justice Department), SB 877 (discharging sureties' liability; effective May 19, 2011), SB 934 (theft of or from automatic teller machine [ATM]), SB 1269 (honorariums), SB 1490 (international child custody), and SB 1680 (evidence in Medicaid/Medicare fraud cases).
Sent to the governor
The volume of bills being passed in this final, 20th week of the session will probably meet or exceed that of the 19 preceding weeks. As a result, we can barely begin to report on what legislators did. However, we can pass along news on a few topics we know some of you have been following, including these bills sent to the governor: HB 260 (unlawful transport), HB 1573 (amended with post-conviction DNA expansion), HB 1610 (amended with expansion of educator/student sex prohibitions), HB 2649 (credits for inmates in state jail facilities), HB 2735 (parole violator summons), HB 2889 (expanded right to expunction if prosecutor does not object), HB 3384 (revised state jail felony enhancements), SB 116 (third-party protective orders), SB 578 (facilitating child testimony in court), SB 1308 (counsel qualifications for death penalty appointments), and SB 1787 (adding blood draw info to DIC-24s).
Pending concurrence or conference committee
The following bills have passed both chambers, but the second chamber made changes that must either be accepted by the originating chamber or settled by means of a conference committee: HB 3 (life without parole for certain repeat sex offenders), HB 274 ("loser pays" civil bill), HB 1043 (cockfighting), HB 1658 (refunding cash bonds), HB 1754 (indigent defense commission), HB 2015 (juvenile prostitution = CINS), HB 2357 (amended with DPS border checkpoints), HB 3396 (breach of computer security), HB 3691 (amended with revocation reduction plans), SB 377 (capital murder of certain children older than 6 years of age), SB 407 (sexting), SB 462 (expunction changes), SB 789 (extended duration protective orders), SB 958 (regulation of dangerous wild animals), SB 1010 (notifying certain victims of plea bargains), SB 1233 (efficiency of certain county functions), SB 1616 (preservation of biological evidence), SB 1636 (testing of rape kits), SB 1649 (border prosecution grants), and SB 1717 (judicial branch changes). Getting a change made in a conference committee is very difficult—but not impossible. If you are concerned about any last-minute changes that need to be fixed, contact Shannon or Rob at 512/474-2436 for details on what, if anything, can be done before the bill is finally passed.
Note to DAs on asset forfeiture reform
One bill still pending in conference committee is SB 316 by Whitmire/Gallego. A conference committee report was issued in which all the House floor amendments—including the one giving the AG rule-making authority over your expenditures—were stripped out (except for one harmless change regarding the state auditor). Included in those "dead amendments" was language related to drug-related seizures by DPS troopers that was designed to encourage DPS to keep those cases in the state system. DPS has been working overtime to get that back in, and earlier today, the House rejected the conference committee and returned it to the Senate with a request that the DPS amendments be restored. This also opens up the bill to other amendments directed at one particular judicial district. However, what's most important to note is how vital it was that we got the AG's rule-making amendment repealed before the House sent the bill back to the Senate. If not for your quick action, that language would also now be in play again. So, once again, pat yourself on the back for a job well done—having to ride herd on that bad idea all weekend would've really spoiled our holiday!
Our popular Legislative Update seminars are starting to fill up. The initial offering in Austin already has 50 registrants, and it's still two months away! Don't be left out of the fun—sign up yourself, your office, and your local peace officers at http://www.tdcaa.com/seminars/signup.asp. Space is limited at some locations, so don't delay!