Remember that “lucky streak” of inactivity we mentioned last week? Well, that’s about to end next week. In fact, the House is even open for business on Monday’s state holiday! Where have all the good times gone? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.
Everybody wants some. The House Appropriations Committee kicked it into high gear this week, with subcommittees starting every morning at 7:00 a.m. They churned through the entire budget—including DA apportionment and assistant prosecutor longevity pay—and are on track to have the full committee review the subcommittees’ recommendations on Monday. On the DA apportionment front, 46th Judicial District DA Staley Heatly left a newborn baby at home in Vernon (congratulations, Staley!) to come to Austin and tell the House subcommittee how badly rural felony prosecutors need their apportionment funding to be restored from the proposed FY 2012-2013 amount of $22,500 to $32,500. Then Brazoria County CDA Jeri Yenne testified concerning the need to preserve the longevity funding currently received by more than 1,300 assistant prosecutors. As a result, the subcommittee voted to recommend to the full Appropriations Committee that longevity funding be fully restored, and they recommended that DA apportionment be at least partially restored, depending upon the availability of funds. The full House Appropriations Committee will take up those (and many, many other) budget items Monday morning; meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee is still set to hear testimony on these items on Tuesday. We have posted background “frequently asked questions” memos on these two issues at http://www.tdcaa.com/node/8001 for you to review and use with your local legislators. If you want to get involved, give Rob a call ASAP.
Runnin’ with the devil. Before you talk with your legislator about fiscal issues, make sure you have educated yourself on your own budget and can clearly articulate how your office is funded and how the cuts will impact you. That advice comes after watching Wednesday’s Senate Finance hearing. The questioning can be tough in these tight economic times. As we warned you a few weeks ago, don’t come to Austin to ask for money unless you are fully prepared to answer questions about your own budget!
Women and children first. Or so said the law of the sea in a more chivalrous era. If you were to apply that analogy to our “sinking” prison system in this period of budget cuts, the rule might be “foreigners and expensive inmates first.” That is one of the early ideas being floated by lawmakers who are seeking to free up enough prison beds to justify closing some prisons—namely, release inmates who came here illegally and hope ICE deports them, and release sick and elderly inmates into nursing facilities where the feds will pick up the tab for their medical care. Many prisoners in those two classes are eligible for parole, but the Parole Board is not releasing them because of public safety concerns. Now some legislators intend to trump those concerns under the theory that doing so would be the lesser of two evils when compared to cutting probation and parole treatment options. We’re not sure how nursing homes will feel about having sick inmates dumped on them, nor how the anti-immigration crowd will feel about foreign inmates being granted early release with no guarantee of deportation, but we’ll have more news on this front after policymakers hold a “Correctional Policy Workgroup” meeting next Thursday the 24th to try to come up with a palatable plan for releasing thousands of TDCJ inmates. It should be interesting.
And the cradle will rock. The U.S. Census Bureau released its initial numbers this week that will be used for redistricting. We don’t have the time or ability to cover this subject in detail, but the biggest gains in population were seen in the Hill Country, the Metroplex, the Valley, and the Greater Houston area, while West Texas hemorrhaged people. The overall total of 25.1 million Texans roughly breaks down as 45% Anglo, 38% Hispanic, 12% Black, and 4% Asian, with Hispanics making the largest gains, especially among the young. These numbers paint a picture of Texas as a state becoming more suburban/exurban and Hispanic, less rural and Anglo. If you want to know how that will affect your communities, contact your local legislators—I guarantee you that by this time next week they will know exactly who is living where (and how they vote!)—or for true redistricting geeks, visit the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting page, available here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html.
Committee hearings. Here we go …!
Monday, February 21
House Appropriations (7:00 a.m., E1.030)
HB 1 by Pitts; Articles I, IV, & V (includes your budget items)
Senate Finance (12:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, E1.036)
SB 1 by Ogden; Article V (DPS, TDCJ, BPP, TCLEOSE, etc.)
Tuesday, February 22
House Criminal Jurisprudence (10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment, JHR 120)
HB 96 by Fletcher to permit certain prosecution witnesses to be excluded from the Rule
HB 99 by Martinez Fischer creating the offense of aggravated driving while intoxicated
HB 215 by Gallego relating to photograph and live lineup identification procedures
HB 219 by Gallego requiring electronic recording of certain custodial interrogations
HB 220 by Gallego authorizing subsequent writs based on relevant scientific evidence
HB 221 by Fletcher increasing the punishment for burglary of a vehicle
HB 341 by Fletcher increasing the punishment for burglary committed while evading arrest
Senate Finance (12:00 noon or upon adjournment, E1.036)
SB 1 by Ogden; Article IV (Judicial branch, including your budget items)
Wednesday, February 23
Senate Transportation & Homeland Security (8:00 a.m., E1.016)
The committee will hear testimony on homeland security and border issues.
House Corrections (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E2.014)
The committee will hear invited testimony from certain agencies.
Bill filings. We are now entering bill-filing crunch time. The official deadline to file a bill is the 60th day of the session, which falls on Friday, March 11 (three weeks from today). However, legislators frown on bills written on cocktail napkins with lipstick, which is why there is a stable of bill drafters at the Texas Legislative Council to churn out legislation—and let us tell you, they are busy right now. This list will be looooooong for the next few weeks, and even then we are only scratching the surface of what is being filed. To ensure a bill request is processed and completed in time for filing by March 11, the bill drafters have given today as their deadline. If you have not already done so, don’t be dissuaded by that, though—it’s a completely artificial deadline. However, it is imperative to get your bill ideas into legislators’ hands as soon as possible. With that in mind, here is a short summary of some of the new bills filed since last week’s update (current through yesterday):
HB 12 by Solomons relating to sanctuary cities (this is the governor’s bill, as indicated by the low bill number; SB 11 by Williams is the companion bill)
HB 1294 by Shelton making illegal aliens ineligible for community supervision
HB 1297 by Paxton requiring the state enforcement of certain federal immigration laws
HB 1299 by Guillen requiring the supervised re-entry release of certain TDCJ inmates
HB 1309 by Craddick creating a “sexting” offense
HB 1313 by Gonzalez relating to a child’s hearsay statements in a protective order case
HB 1332 by Creighton relating to Medicaid fraud prosecutions (see also, SB 688 by Nelson)
HB 1344 by Burkett eliminating a defense for displaying harmful material to a minor (see also, SB 757 by Deuell)
HB 1345 by Veasey extending the statute of limitations for certain kidnapping cases
HB 1353 by Elkins increasing certain speed limits
HB 1389 by Hopson increasing penalties for certain dog attacks
HB 1391 by Deshotel authorizing intoxilyzer operators to access certain DL information
HB 1406 by Riddle authorizing EMTs, etc., to draw blood in certain DWI cases
HB 1410 by Bonnen increasing the punishment for attempted murder
HB 1424 by Garza banning a defeated judge from sitting in that court as a visiting judge
HB 1455 by Kolkhorst authorizing certain illegal immigrants to be released into the custody of the nearest U.S. Senator’s or Representative’s office
HB 1457 by Fletcher relating to the interception of certain communications (see also, SB 687 by Huffman)
HB 1467 by Hernandez Luna creating a Class C offense for certain bullying acts
HB 1470 by Miles creating the Texas State Civilian Complaint Review Board
HB 1471 by Miles increasing the penalty for certain acts of official oppression
HB 1475 by Alonzo creating longevity pay for public defenders and judicial staff attorneys
HB 1477 by Allen awarding certain TDCJ inmates time credits while on supervision
HB 1489 by Naishtat authorizing victims to give oral impact statements before sentencing
HB 1491 by Naishtat creating an affirmative defense for medically-recommended marihuana
HJR 97 by Naishtat imposing a moratorium on executions
HJR 98 by Burkett denying bail to certain repeat felony offenders
SB 600 by Rodriguez prohibiting law enforcement from inquiring about the immigration status of a victim of or witness to a criminal offense
SB 608 by Rodriguez authorizing counties to regulate certain fireworks
SB 623 by Whitmire disqualifying a prosecutor from a criminal investigation of himself
SB 624 by Whitmire repealing the driver responsibility program (aka, DPS surcharges)
SB 634 by Hinojosa authorizing deferred adjudication for certain DWI-1st offenses
SB 677 by Gallegos creating fines as enforcement of the public information law
SB 686 by Huffman extending community supervision for a failure to pay restitution
SB 695 by Watson suspending the collection of certain dedicated fees
SJR 24 by Watson exempting political subdivisions from certain unfunded mandates
That’s all for this week!