Interim Recap: September 2018

Annual recap

            What a fantastic Annual Update in Galveston last week! It received high marks in your evaluations, so whether it was the timely and relevant training topics, the great speakers, the many networking and team-building opportunities, or the periodic power outages (OK, maybe not that one), we’re glad y’all had such a positive experience.

            To all of you who were there, thanks for making it one of our most successful conferences ever. And for those of you who could not make it last week, be sure to mark the 2019 Annual at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi on your calendars now—it’s never too early to make hotel reservations!

New mandatory Brady training available online

            As announced at last week’s Annual Update, TDCAA’s new state-mandated Brady training video is now available online through our website. This *FREE* one-hour course on a prosecutor’s duty to disclose exculpatory and mitigating evidence and information meets the requirements of Government Code §41.111 and has been approved by the Court of Criminal Appeals for that purpose. As required by that statute (which went into effect on January 1, 2014), every attorney prosecuting a jailable criminal offense must complete one hour of instruction on a prosecutor’s duty to disclose such evidence and information within 180 days of assuming those duties, and Court rules require prosecutors to take a refresher course in the fourth year after completing that initial course. Our new 2018 course satisfies either requirement, and successful completion of the course will be recorded by TDCAA and shared with the Court as proof of satisfying this state mandate. Those who complete the course will also receive one hour of MCLE ethics credit from the State Bar of Texas.
            To access and complete the new Brady course, go to http://tdcaa.litmos.com/online-courses (or visit our home page), “order” the course (which is free), log in or complete a new registration, and then you will receive an email granting you access to the course portal. (We know this may sound a little cumbersome, but it ensures that you receive the proper credits mentioned above.) The TDCAA training crew has been working all year to bring you this new, cutting-edge online training, and we hope you find it to be both informative and engaging.

Budget wheels begin to turn

            Legislators won’t reconvene in Austin until January, but their staffers and various state agencies are already working on budget requests for the 2019 session. As of today, all relevant state agencies have had their initial Legislative Appropriation Request (LAR) reviewed by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and various staffers from the House, Senate, and governor’s office. Heading into the next session, most agencies have maintained their FY 2018-2019 funding levels as their initial baseline budget for FY 2020-21 and then tacked on various “exceptional items” seeking additional funding for certain items favored by the agency’s leadership. Those exceptional items often reflect broader legislative priorities heading into a session, so let’s review a few relevant agency’s LARs to see what the tea leaves might tell us. (Note: All figures are totals for the next two-year biennium.)

 

DPS:

  • Exceptional item #3: ~$49 million to increase crime lab performance/reduce backlogs

OAG:

  • Exceptional item #1: ~$3 million for 13 additional human trafficking employees
  • Exceptional item #2: ~$2 million for 10 additional election fraud employees

TDCJ:

  • Exceptional item #3: ~$33 million for special needs housing (mental health care, etc.)
  • Exceptional item #4: ~$32 million for specialized probation caseloads (mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc.)
  • Exceptional item #5: $8 million for pretrial diversion programming supervised through local probation departments
  • Exceptional item #8: $13 million to expand jail diversion services for offenders with mental health problems in rural counties

TJJD:

  • Exceptional item #1: ~$37 million to continue various reforms (regionalization, greater probation resources, more placement options, etc.)

            The next “Big Event” in the budget process will be the LBB’s announcement of a spending cap after the fall elections, followed by the comptroller’s official revenue projection for the upcoming biennium. Those are the two numbers against which all appropriation requests will be measured, and budget planning will start in earnest in early January. If you have questions about getting involved in that process, feel free to contact Shannon for more details.

ACLU proposals to empty the prisons

            For those of you interested in seeing how the ACLU has been spending some of its Trump era-fundraising bounty, check out the Texas page of this criminal justice reform website it is calling “The 50 State Blueprint.” We reviewed it and found many of the state-by-state analytics to include the same boilerplate proposals for each state. Regardless of the occasional poor fit, however, the website does give relatively specific proposals for “ending mass incarceration in Texas” by cutting the TDCJ population almost in half. To do so, the ACLU suggests the Legislature:

  • Require probation or pre-trial diversion for all felony drug possession cases and half of all felony drug delivery cases;
  • Require probation or pre-trial diversion for 30 percent more felony assaults, robberies, and burglaries, and 40 percent more felony DWI, theft, and fraud cases;
  • Cut in half the average sentence lengths for felony drug deliveries, assaults, sex offender registration violations, weapons crimes, and theft and fraud offenses; and
  • Cut by 40 percent the average sentence lengths for robbery, burglary, and felony DWI cases.

The full PDF “report” can be downloaded here for anyone who is interested in the nitty-gritty details.

            In an entirely unrelated, completely coincidental development (ahem), representatives of the ACLU-supported “Smart on Crime Coalition” recently testified before a House panel on state jails to announce some of their proposals for “fixing” the state jail system. It probably surprises none of you to learn that they also favor mandatory pre-trial diversion or probation for almost all drug offenders and various property crime offenders (see, e.g., the first bullet point above). Now, such outcomes might make sense if you’ve reviewed a case, think it is an appropriate option, and have the resources to make it work for that offender, but these proposals are *categorical* mandates—one-size-fits-all solutions purposely designed to remove discretion from the mix. Back in the 2007–2011 sessions, similar mandatory diversion/probation proposals failed to clear the Legislature, but it sounds like you will see them again in 2019, so be prepared to tell your legislators what you think about that idea if you get asked. (And don’t be afraid to tell those legislators what good you could do under existing law if you simply had more treatment options and resources—solving that unaddressed need is something that everyone can probably agree on, if only we could convince the state budget writers to do it!)

Interim committee hearing recaps

            The Senate Criminal Justice Committee took testimony on all their interim charges in one hearing, where perhaps the most interesting idea to be discussed (in the area of “fixing” state jails) was the repeal of Penal Code §12.44(a) in an attempt to prevent plea bargains that result in final convictions rather than treatment on probation (we will leave it to your informed judgment to decide whether such a change would have that desired effect) … the Senate Health & Human Services Committee got an update on the state hospital system, including news that 338 additional forensic beds are under construction/being purchased using funds appropriated last session … the Senate State Affairs Committee took testimony on looting and price-gouging during natural disasters … and the House County Affairs Committee held a two-day hearing on a variety of topics, including the problems that counties are experiencing in trying to adequately fund indigent defense and mental health treatment.

Future interim hearings

            Interim hearings will slow as we approach the fall elections. Relevant hearings posted so far for later this week and in October (with links to official notices) include:

Joint Interim Committee on State Judicial Salaries

Friday, September 28, at 10:00 a.m., State Capitol Extension Room E1.036
CHARGES: State judicial salary comparables from other jurisdictions and the private sector.
 

Joint Interim Committee on Prescribing and Dispensing Controlled Substances
Wednesday, October 3, at 8:00 a.m., State Capitol Senate Chamber
CHARGE: Study the monitoring and prescribing of controlled substances.
 

House Appropriations Committee
Tuesday, October 9, at 9:00 a.m., State Capitol Extension Room E1.030
CHARGE: Review federal and state grants available to improve school safety, firearm safety, and students’ access to mental health services.
 

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

TAC Leadership 254 Program

            Applications for the Leadership 254 program offered by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) are due by Friday, September 28, 2018. (Yes, that is the day after tomorrow!) This program is designed to improve local county officials’ executive leadership skills and better equip them to overcome the unique challenges of their jobs. If you are interested in making an investment in your personal and professional growth, visit the Leadership 254 webpage to learn more about the program and how to apply. There is a cost for the course, but scholarships are available through TAC to help offset some of those costs.
 

Who wants to be on TV?

            The producers of a new TV documentary called “Murder for Hire” are seeking cases to potentially be featured on the show. It’s being co-produced by Dick Wolf (creator of the Law and Order series) and Shed Media, who currently produce “Criminal Confessions.” For more details, visit this post on our website.

Looking ahead on the training calendar

            After the Annual, we’ll have only two major training events remaining for 2018. Here are the details:
 

Key Personnel and Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC) Training
November 7–9, 2018
Inn of the Hills, Kerrville 

            Our Key Personnel–Victim Services Board has planned some outstanding workshops for Texas prosecutor staff and victim assistance personnel, so please consider sending your office staff to this excellent training opportunity! For more hotel and registration information, click here.
 

Elected Prosecutor Conference
November 28–30, 2018
Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center, San Marcos 

            Help us close out another successful year of training by joining us at a new (for the Elected Conference) location in San Marcos. Hotel and registration information can be found here.

Mental health training opportunity

            The Texas Tech Law Review and Texas Tech Administrative Law Journal are hosting mental health law symposium on November 16, 2018, in Lubbock at the law school. Attendance is only $30 per person for prosecutors and law enforcement employees and CLE/TCOLE credit has been applied for. To register, visit this webpage.

Quotes of the Month
 

“The striking thing is how fast people drive. I thought I had a good barometer of violence and trauma until I came here.”
            —Dr. Chip Routt, an orthopedic trauma surgeon who moved from Seattle to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, as quoted in the first article of an occasional series by the Houston Chronicle on what makes that city the most dangerous big city in the nation in which to drive.

 

“California has made great strides in reform for nonviolent, nonserious offenders, and the goal for this Project is to push that narrative to include redemption and second chances even for people who have committed serious or violent offenses.”
            —Hilary Blout, director of California’s new Sentence Review Project, which intends to identify and advocate for inmates seeking relief under a new law in that state authorizing prosecutors to re-open old convictions and re-sentence offenders, including those convicted of violent crimes.

 

“At the end of the day, it’s all about funding.”
            —Amanda Dalton, Oregon District Attorneys Association, explaining why Oregon’s state crime labs are drowning in untested urine samples (their headline, not ours!) after the legalization of marijuana in that state. 

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