Interim Update: December 2016

            Happy First Day of Winter, y’all. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Christmas lists from your county neighbors

            Earlier this month we attended TAC’s Legislative Symposium held in anticipation of next month’s session. (Yes, it is less than one month away [gulp].) All the various county official associations were represented, and members of each group discussed their top issues for the upcoming session. To help you better understand what your fellow county officials want Santa to bring them next session, we thought we’d list a few of those priority items here: 

County Judges & Commissioners Association

  • Oppose appraisal and revenue caps
  • Get the state to fund various unfunded mandates (indigent defense, mental health, etc.)
  • Oppose appraisal and revenue caps
  • Courthouse security (including banning weapons)
  • And oh yeah: Oppose appraisal and revenue caps

County & District Clerks Association

  • Revise grand juror qualifications to match those for petit jurors
  • Allow larger grand jury panels to be called (more than the current 125-person cap)
  • Get DPS to take custody of biological evidence exhibits after trial and properly store them

Justices of the Peace & Constables Association

  • Repeal the Driver Responsibility Program (aka DPS surcharges)
  • Allow JPs to cross county lines to assist with inquests
  • Mandate civil process training for constables

Sheriffs’ Association

  • Increase mental health funding (treatment, beds, etc.)
  • Increase funding for DPS crime labs
  • Expand DNA collection upon arrest to include all jailable offenses (Class B and up)
  • Increase the punishment for Burglary of a Building
  • Courthouse security (including banning weapons)
  • Monitor changes to drug penalties, bail and pre-trial release, and juvenile ages

These items represent a short summary of the many, many issues listed by each association, so if you want more complete information, contact Shannon for the details.


Exoneration commission report

            The Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission has released its final report. If you’ve been reading our past updates about that commission’s work, none of its recommendations should surprise you (unless you find yourself pleasantly surprised by what is *not* listed in their recommendations—in which case, you should thank Vernon DA Staley Heatly, who was the sole prosecutor on the commission). If the commission report is any indication, the Legislature may spend more time this session talking about jailhouse informants than we originally anticipated, but we will keep an eye on that topic and report what we know as it happens.


Specialty court funding cuts

            According to a recent memo, the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) will no longer fund probation officer, prosecutor, or defense attorney salaries for specialty court programs beginning in state fiscal year 2018. For more details, see the related news item posted on our website.


The legislative calendar

            Here’s a reminder of the three important legislative dates:

            First day of the 85th Session:            Tuesday, January 10, 2017
            Bill filing deadline:                             Friday, March 10, 2017
            Adjournment sine die:                       Monday, May 29, 2017

Remember, you can follow some bills through the three bill tracking reports (Penal Code, CCP, and other “Bills to Watch”) we make available to you here, but there are many other bills that we will be tracking that aren’t on those public lists. If you are curious about any bill or general topic, feel free to contact Shannon with your questions.


Session volunteers

            We are seeking volunteers to come to Austin during the weeks beginning February 6th and ending the week of May 8th. This session there will be new elected DAs in Harris and Dallas Counties—the two largest jurisdictions in the state which together claim 51 of the 181 state legislators (28%) in Austin—so the rest of you will not have the luxury of riding those metro DAs’ coattails on issues of general importance to our profession. That means you may want to consider coming to Austin this spring. As of today, we have eight (8) volunteers for the entire session. The good news is that figure is a 150% increase from where we were before three weeks ago, but it’s still pretty slim. If interested, please call or email Shannon to learn more about our legislative rotation.


Schedule going forward

            Starting Friday, January 6, these legislative updates will issue every Friday until the end of the session. If you need to change your email address (or any other information), simply click on the “Manage your subscription” link at bottom of this email and then select “Edit profile” at the bottom right hand of that subsequent webpage.


Quotes of the month


“It’s almost like you’re paying for a dismissal, and that is illegal.”
           —Lynn Richardson, chief public defender in Dallas, referring to pre-trial diversion programs. Expect programs like those featured in this recent New York Times story to be examined closely by the Legislature next session.


“I’m not a news organization. Y’all are holding me to the same standards as you are [as] a news organization, and it’s just Facebook. … If it’s thought-provoking, I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide. Everyone that reads that is grown-ups [sic]. It’s like Fox News: I report, you decide if it’s true or not.”
            —Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R-Stephenville), when asked about his penchant for re-cycling “fake news” on his Facebook account.


“I guess the question I’m asked the most often is: ‘When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the countdown, how did you feel?’ Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts—all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
            —Former U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-OH), the first American to orbit the Earth (among numerous other accomplishments).


“It’s been totally a non-issue. In fact, the biggest issue we had is we had to replace signs because the wind bent them. Other than that, no cases or other issues. It’s really not had an impact on our campus life whatsoever.”
            —Mike Knox, vice president of student affairs at West Texas A&M, when asked about the implementation of campus carry.


“Change is hard. People are used to a certain way of doing things up there. I told this community I was going to go in and use my management experience and skills and I’m doing it.”
            —Margaret Moore, Travis County DA-elect, when asked about staff changes in that office, which has been relatively unchanged for almost 40 years.