Is it wrong to be jealous of Wisconsin? We're not even two months into this session and we're already wishing some of our legislators would leave, too ...
The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees have now finished their first round of budget hearings. The House committee is doing its "mark-up" now, during which members review requested appropriations and decide what to cut and what to restore to the budget. We are pleased to confirm that as of today, the House committee has fully restored the assistant prosecutor longevity fund. That committee has also talked about helping out the rural DAs hit hardest by the proposed apportionment cuts, but nothing has been done on that front yet—and nothing may be done until very late in the session, if at all, depending upon the identification of additional funding sources or revenue.
Across the rotunda, some Senate Finance committee members have expressed concerns about the proposed cuts to apportionment and longevity, but they are lagging behind their House counterparts, so it will be a while before we have information on what they want to do on those issues. The key is to have our preferred language on both issues in at least one of those chamber's budgets so that we have a fighting chance when the final budget negotiations go to conference committee at the very end of the session. Special thanks go out to Vega C&DA Kent Birdsong, Snyder DA Dana Cooley, Ozona DA Laurie English, Haskell DA Mike Fouts, Livingston CDA Lee Hon, and Huntsville CDA David Weeks for coming to Austin these past two weeks. Their involvement has made a difference on these issues, and if we are successful, it will be because of them and other prosecutors like them who took the time to weigh in on these topics.
Training fund to shrink
Our other primary budget concern this session is TDCAA's grant funding, which is scheduled to take a hit of approximately $250,000 starting in the next fiscal year. We will work with our members to develop a plan for handling that cut through reductions in spending and increased use of other revenue sources. Our goal is to preserve much of the current training and technical support that we provide to you and to all our members, but we must be realistic.
An exception to every rule
Despite all this doom and gloom, there is one area of the state budget that may grow. This week, the Senate Finance Committee took steps to increase DPS's funding for border crime prevention by as much as $30 million. The state leadership is making border security one of its primary objectives, and law enforcement agencies and the prosecutors who participate in those efforts may be immunized from budget cuts this session. The Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee also discussed border security issues this week, resulting in the Austin American-Statesman printing an editorial on asset forfeiture—which would normally not be news, except that this editorial was in support of state efforts to increase seizures and forfeitures along the border. (This through-the-looking-glass moment is brought to you courtesy of the state's budget crisis.) The theory circulating around the Capitol is that a robust asset forfeiture campaign along the border—especially one conducted by DPS using roving southbound checkpoints—could simultaneously impair Mexican drug gangs' operations while also funding law enforcement efforts to protect Texans from those criminal operations. El Paso DA Jaime Esparza and Floresville DA Rene Pena have been frequent witnesses before these committees on behalf of the Border Prosecutor Unit, and they have done a bang-up job of working with the Senate leadership to educate them about these issues from a prosecutor's perspective.
Smart on crime, or just cheap on crime?
As we mentioned last week, Jerry Madden (R-Plano), chairman of the House Corrections Committee, convened a "Correctional Policy Workgroup" meeting yesterday. While several interesting ideas were floated during the meeting, not much headway was made in addressing how TDCJ is going to comply with its slated $750 million budget cut, including the loss of about 4,000 beds during the next biennium. Proposals likely to get more detailed consideration include: paroling (and deporting) certain non-citizen inmates; paroling more elderly and disabled inmates; re-instituting a form of mandatory supervision after 90% of an inmate's sentence; and shortening the time that elapses between approval of parole and actual release. Big changes could also be in store for state jail felons, but details on that possibility were noticeably lacking at this meeting. Thanks go to Houston DA Pat Lykos for sitting in on the meeting; we'll keep you posted as this develops.
Open for business
The Lt. Governor has created a Select Committee on Open Government to evaluate various public information issues, including the impact of technology on open meetings and open records law. Members of the committee are: Wentworth (R-San Antonio), chair; W. Davis (D-Ft. Worth), vice-chair; Ellis (D-Houston), Eltife (R-Tyler), and Shapiro (R-Plano). We'll add that to our (seemingly never-ending) list of committees to follow!
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard its first round of bills last Tuesday. As is customary in the House, all but one of the bills heard this week were left pending, with an eventual vote possible at any time in the future. The exception was HB 215 by Gallego to reform eyewitness ID procedures, which was voted out favorably. It now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will set it for debate on the House floor sometime after March 11 (the 60th day of the session). Most other House committees will start hearing bills in earnest next week. Elsewhere, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee approved SB 221 by Nelson to improve investigations of abuse against the elderly/disabled.
As the budget committees start to wind up their initial work, the other committees are starting to heat up. Below are various bills set for hearings next week. Note that we list only some of the bills we are tracking—the committees may have other bills also scheduled for debate which we omit to save space.
Monday, February 28
House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E2.010)
Invited testimony from the State Bar
HB 119 by Castro expanding protective orders to certain dating violence
HB 462 by Kleinschmidt authorizing special judges in county courts in certain counties
Tuesday, March 1[*]
House Criminal Jurisprudence (10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment, JHR 120)
HB 545 by Dutton creating an affirmative defense for certain students who engage in sex
HB 548 by Dutton reducing the penalties for possession of two ounces or less of marihuana
HB 228 by Fletcher relating to the prosecution of the offense of criminal nonsupport
HB 739 by Fletcher eliminating the statute of limitations for certain tampering offenses
HB 305 by Harless increasing the punishment for burglary of a vehicle
HB 371 by Hochberg prohibiting deferred adjudication for certain murder offenders
HB 690 by Martinez Fischer increasing the punishment for graffiti on historical structures
HB 20 by Riddle increasing the punishment for burglary of a vehicle
HB 172 by Veasey to study the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act
Senate Criminal Justice (1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, E1.016)
Invited testimony from Dr. Tony Fabelo regarding Texas Juvenile Reinvestment
SB 121 by Ellis relating to photograph and live lineup identification procedures
SB 316 by Whitmire relating to asset forfeiture and accountability for their disposition
SB 321 by Hegar authorizing employees' transportation and storage of certain firearms
Senate Jurisprudence (1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, 2E.20 (Betty King Room))
SB 61 by Zaffirini relating to minimum standards for juvenile case managers
SB 118 by Uresti relating to a court's authority to order extended outpatient MH services
SB 209 by Zaffirini relating to the supervision of certain juvenile case managers
SB 283 by Harris relating to the appointment of associate judges in CPS cases
SB 485 by Huffman relating to venue for certain criminal prosecutions of mortgage fraud
House Human Services (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E2.030)
HB 253 by Hilderbran increasing the penalty for truancy (and many other changes)
House Homeland Security & Public Safety (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E1.026)
The committee will take invited testimony only.
Wednesday, March 2
House Corrections (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E2.014)
Invited testimony from Federal Second Chance Act grantees and Dr. Tony Fabelo.
They are really starting to crank out the bills now—about 125 per day this week, a number that will double as we near the bill filing of March 11. Here is a short summary of some of the new bills filed since last week's update (current through yesterday):
HB 251 by Hilderbran expanding the regulation of dangerous wild animals
HB 1507 by Christian authorizing magistrates to issue search warrants in certain counties
HB 1523 by Phillips increasing the penalty for unregistered household movers
HB 1529 by S. Miller relating to the elements of identity theft
HB 1530 by S. Miller authorizing commissioners to pack heat during their meetings\
HB 1536 by Eiland expanding DNA collection to include misdemeanants
HB 1537 by Eiland requiring certain crimes to be reported to prosecutors
HB 1546 by Larson relating to the regulation of dangerous wild animals
HB 1548 by Sheets adding "bath salts," etc., to the Controlled Substances Act
HB 1553 by Larson requiring state/local gov'tal entities to collect citizenship information
HB 1573 by Gallego relating to certain bail and expunction procedures
HB 1601 by Price authorizing certain injury to a child sentences to be stacked
HB 1622 by Menendez relating to gang injunctions and public nuisances
HB 1626 by Flynn relating to a database for OTC sales of pseudoephedrine, etc.
HB 1638 by Aliseda (and SB 623 by Whitmire) disqualifying a prosecutor from participating in a criminal investigation of that prosecutor
HB 1640 by Dutton increasing the penalty for certain acts of official oppression
HB 1641 by Dutton creating a commission on the death penalty; imposing a moratorium
HB 1646 by Gallego relating to defense counsel in death penalty writs
HB 1647 by Gallego requiring reciprocal discovery in criminal cases
HB 1658 by Y. Davis, HB 1686 by Fletcher, HB 1748 by Kuempel, HB 1822 by Harless, HB 1823 by Harless, SB 877 by Hinojosa, SB 878 by Whitmire, SB 879 by Whitmire, SB 881 by Whitmire, and SB 909 by Nichols—all addressing some aspect of bail bonds and/or bond forfeitures (what a flood of bills for one week!)
HB 1666 by Castro expanding the offense of online harassment
HB 1670 by Coleman imposing procedures for determining MR in death penalty cases
HB 1696 by Zedler expanding the AG's authority to investigate election-related crimes
HB 1712 by Christian creating a public integrity unit in the AG's office and denying jurisdiction over those cases to local prosecutors
HB 1715 by Laubenberg expanding victims' rights to property crimes
HB 1721 by Lucio III relating to protective orders for stalking and certain sexual assaults
HB 1722 by Lucio III relating to failure to report crimes committed against a child
HB 1723 by Lucio III relating to repeated violations of certain court orders
HB 1726 by Hernandez Luna expanding the DNA database and restricting dissemination
HB 1743 by Martinez Fischer adding language to the DIC-24 in DWI cases
HB 1771 by Madden creating the Specialty Courts Advisory Council
HB 1787 by Farias establishing a restorative justice pilot program in certain counties
HB 1800 by Bonnen relating to ... yet another immigration bill we're too tired to read ...
HB 1806 by Flynn (and SB 897 by Hegar) relating to fishing tournament fraud
HB 1817 by N. Gonzalez relating to protective orders
HCR 68 by Hunter requesting the creation of an interim committee on human trafficking
HJR 106 by Christian amending the constitution to give the AG exclusive criminal jurisdiction over certain public integrity crimes
SB 769 by W. Davis increasing the penalty for certain intoxication assaults
SB 779 by Whitmire creating an animal cruelty database and registry
SB 808 by Seliger expanding the offense of breach of computer security
SB 823 by Carona mandating 6 hours of training on offenders' mental illness and substance abuse for most judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense lawyers
SB 841 by D. Patrick relating to breach of computer security
SB 843 by D. Patrick expanding the offense of failure to identify
SB 862 by Rodriguez relating to DOC offenses involving unreasonable noise
SB 863 by Rodriguez criminalizing the bullying of a school employee by a student
SB 880 by Whitmire relating to pretrial intervention programs
SBs 883 and 884 by Whitmire awarding TDCJ inmates certain credits after revocation
SB 887 by Carona increasing penalties for theft of an ATM or its contents
SB 910 by Lucio relating to elected prosecutors called to active duty military service
SB 931 by Williams relating to incompetency in criminal cases
SB 933 by Ellis relating to the electronic submission of certain documents to the AG
SB 934 by Williams relating to the enforcement of tax laws
SB 939 by Lucio creating an offense for cockfighting
SB 947 by D. Patrick granting limited law enforcement authority to certain federal officers
[*] We will be following bills being debated simultaneously in 4-5 different committee hearings located in three different buildings on Tuesdays afternoons for the rest of this session. Therefore, you may want to avoid calling Rob or Shannon at all on a Tuesday between now and June—we might be feeling a little harried on those days!