Interim Recap: June 2018

            Our prediction for next month’s World Cup champion is Belgium, but the field is still wide open. However, we’re much more confident that the runner-up to the eventual winner will be … Apathy. Such is the price of our men’s national team laying an egg in qualifying. It’s hard to claim to be “the sport of the future” in the States if you aren’t even on the pitch!

 

Post-Santa Fe proposals

            In response to Governor Abbott’s “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan” (full PDF version available here), the Speaker and Lt. Governor asked their respective committees to hold interim hearings on issues related to the recent mass shootings in Texas. As is their wont, both chambers are studying the same issues in different settings and at different times. This creates a “silo effect” in which neither chamber cooperates or shares information with the other, making the process inefficient and repetitive for those on the outside trying to keep track of where the legislature might be headed. (Thank you, bicameral legislative system.)

            As for specifics, the new Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held two hearings on various aspects of preventing mass shootings at schools, including security-based architecture, the use of metal detectors and clear backpacks, increased law enforcement presence on campuses, school marshal and guardian programs, and more. Among the most interesting facts to come out of those hearings was the revelation that state appropriators had cut the budget of the Texas School Safety Center by almost half back in 2017, something that the committee members did not seem very eager to discuss in detail. (Hmph.) The House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee is scheduled to take up the same issues this Thursday, but we don’t expect the discussion to be much different.

            Outside of the school context, the most controversial policy topics to arise from the recent mass shootings in Texas involve our child access prevention (CAP) law (codified in Penal Code §46.13) and the possible creation of an extreme risk protective order, also known as a “red flag” law. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee took almost 10 hours of testimony on those two subjects earlier this week at a hearing that was made much more interesting by the news that the state GOP had just adopted positions opposing both ideas (see Planks #73 and #74) and the governor’s resulting “clarification” of his position on those topics. No clear resolution on either issue came from the committee hearing, but it appears that grassroots Republican opposition to passing any gun control-related measures may be increasing proportionately with the amount of time that has passed since the last mass shooting incident. We’ll get a chance to test that hypothesis when the Senate Select Committee takes up the same issues next month.

 

Priorities

            The semi-annual “Texas politics” poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune came out this week. It includes the usual results on various political horse races, job performances, and issues of the day (gun control, immigration, etc.), but we enjoy drilling down to find where “we” (read: crime and public safety) fall on their traditional question asking respondents what they consider to be “the most important problem facing the State of Texas today.” Here is the Top Ten:

 

1) Immigration                                   16%

2) Border security                               14

3) Political corruption/leadership         8

4) Education                                       7

5) Health care                                     7

6) Gun control/gun violence               6

7) Moral decline                                 4

8) Unemployment/jobs                      3

9) Crime and drugs                          3

10) Hurricane recovery                      3

 

(For the full list, see page 3 of the poll results.)

            What we find most interesting about these results is that the “crime and drugs” answer has polled around 2–3 percent in importance for several years until about two years ago, when that category briefly doubled in popularity, only to fall back to its historical average now. There are any number of theories as to why that might be, but we can’t prove anything with certainty. Another interesting question raised by these results is whether current events like Hurricane Harvey recovery or mass shootings will still be high on this list when the legislature convenes in Austin six months from now. If so, both issues are likely to draw policymakers’ attention away from more traditional crime and public safety issues, as will the impending budget shortfall.

 

TJJD: New vision, same as the old vision?

            Earlier this month, the new administration at TJJD issued a report identifying plans for fixing the often-troubled agency. While touting a reduction of its secured juvenile population to an all-time low of 870 youths (one-third the size of the TJJD secure population 10 years ago) along with increased juvenile correctional officer safety and training, the report also lays out a set of guiding principles for future reform that includes:

  • using a graduated set of options to address youths’ needs in their communities;
  • for youths in secure TJJD facilities, a commitment to the shortest appropriate length of stay;
  • keeping youths closer to their home communities; and
  • increased use of evidence-based, trauma-informed care within secure facilities.

            For those of you following the TJJD drama over the years, this plan is really not new; it’s what we’ve been hearing for several years now. As we’ve been telling you, the legislature’s grand vision for TJJD seems to be one that turns it into a funding pass-through for local juvenile probation departments while reducing the agency’s facility footprint down to a couple of secure units that can house 300–400 “worst of the worst” offenders. Viewed in that light, nothing in this new report is all that surprising, but if this topic interests you, please read the full report at the link above.

 

Interim hearings recap

            As for May’s other interim hearings: The House Select Committee on Opioids & Substance Abuse heard testimony supporting the adoption of a “Good Samaritan” defense for drug users who call 911 to report another’s overdose, along with law enforcement testimony about the dangers presented by fentanyl … and that’s about it. That’s what happens when gun control and immigration issues suck all the oxygen out of the building.

 

Future interim hearings

            For that same reason, there isn’t much on tap for July (yet). As of now, the only interim committee hearings posted for July (with links to official notices) are:

 

Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Safety

Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at 9:00 a.m., in Room E1.036, State Capitol Extension

CHARGE: Examine the root cause of mass murder in schools; recommend strategies to identify and deal with high-risk students.

 

Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Safety

Tuesday, July 24, 2018, at 9:00 a.m., in Room E1.036, State Capitol Extension

CHARGE: Examine the need for extreme risk protective orders, aka “red flag” laws.

 

If you have questions about either of these hearings, please contact Shannon for more details.

 

Sunbelt Minority Job Fair

            The TDCAA Diversity, Recruitment, and Retention Committee has reserved a table at the 2018 Sunbelt Minority Job Fair taking place in Dallas on Friday, July 27, 2018. The purpose is to talk to minority lawyers-to-be about the profession of prosecution in Texas and to solicit interest for *your* office if you are hiring. Tarrant County CDA Sharen Wilson, Chairwoman of the committee, has designed an interest card that you can customize and have handed out to prospective employees if you’d like to receive resumes. To participate in that manner or to attend the job fair in person, contact Rob for more details.

 

Scam warning

            Please be advised that several local governmental entities—including counties, cities, and school districts—are being targeted by scammers. The fraud involves the scammers redirecting to themselves electronic payments from those entities that were originally intended for vendors, as recently occurred in Galveston County (to the tune of half a million dollars). Consider this your reminder to please use caution when handling electronic communications and payments to your county vendors.

 

Survey for prosecutors

            The Office of Court Administration (OCA) has been contacted by researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice, who are partnering with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (midwife of the “Right on Crime” agenda) on a project assessing local criminal justice debt practices. The researchers are surveying judges, clerks, collections staff, public defenders, and prosecutors about their offices’ assessment and collections practices and the costs associated with them. OCA has asked us to share a link to the prosecutor-and-defender version of the survey with you, which can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2WK53WK. (Note that participants must indicate the county in which they serve, so your answers will not be anonymous.) As always, it is entirely up to you whether to participate. We are providing the information as a courtesy to our friends at OCA, but we had no input into the content of the survey. If you have questions about the survey, you can direct them to Noah Atchison ([email protected]) at the Brennan Center for Justice.

 

New Warrants Manual on the way!

            Thanks to funding from our TxDOT grant, TDCAA will soon be shipping copies of its new Warrants Manual to all prosecutor offices in Texas. The updated edition of the book includes new charts, up-to-date caselaw from the U.S. Supreme Court (including its latest case on cell-site data, Carpenter v. United States), and sample documents included on a USB drive. Books will be shipped to each office based on the number of prosecutors indicated in TDCAA’s membership database. Additional copies may be purchased for $45 via the TDCAA website.

 

Upcoming TDCAA training opportunities

            Online registration closes this Friday for our second Prosecutor Trial Skills Course of 2018. This will be our final “baby prosecutor course” in San Antonio before returning to Austin for 2019, so check out the details for this conference and consider sending your new prosecutors to ol’ San Antone for some CLE while you still can!

 

Quotes of the Month

 
“I agree with you 110%. I wish you’d read the plan before commenting. It specifically requires full due process before anyone’s right can be compromised. Moreover I don’t advocate red flag laws. Only that it is something the legislature can consider.”
            —Tweet from Gov. Greg Abbott’s personal twitter account, in response to criticism of his request that the legislature study whether Texas needs a “red flag law” to prevent more mass shootings.

 

“[A] special session will almost certainly amount to nothing more than a $1 million taxpayer-funded political commercial for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. …”
            —State Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas), announced candidate for House Speaker in 2019, in an op/ed on the prospects of a special session to address recent mass shooting incidents in Texas.

 

“Our real goal is to change the face of cannabis.”
            —Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, on that pro-pot advocacy group’s latest public relations campaign to sell the idea of medical marijuana to skeptical rural politicians (and their constituents) in West Texas.

 

“Residency is the squishiest concept in Texas jurisprudence. It’s completely subjective.”
            —Ross Fischer, former Texas Ethics Commissioner (and former Kendall County Attorney), on the intentionally vague definition of residency used in the state’s Elections Code.

 

“Mexican cartels have industrialized the production process. It’s very lucrative for them. They can produce it very cheaply. And therefore, you’ve got this mass influx of it, and the prices are at an all-time low.”
            —DEA Special Agent Timothy Massino of the Los Angeles (CA) Field Division, quoted in an article about the national increase in meth overdose deaths that is being overshadowed by opioid deaths.

 

“They have found that it’s easier to grow and process marijuana in Colorado, [and] ship it throughout the United States, than it is to bring it from Mexico or Cuba.”
            —El Paso County (CO) Sheriff Bill Elder, explaining how marijuana legalization in his state has changed the strategy of the foreign drug cartels supplying the black market.

 

“We’re just trying to make it and it ain’t easy. We’ve never filed for bankruptcy and everyone’s been paid. Sometimes the tax man is the last one to get paid.”
            —State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), candidate for the state senate seat recently vacated by State Sen. Carlos Uresti after his federal fraud conviction, in response to a story reporting Gutierrez’s multiple past and present tax delinquencies.

 

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