Greetings! Welcome to the first legislative update of the new year. Special thanks this week go out to the UIL for inventing the legal fiction of a “Week Zero” in their high school football scheduling—we are going to use that for the title of this first edition of our weekly update because the Legislature doesn’t officially crank up until Tuesday.
Only 20 more weeks to go (gulp)!
How this works
For those of you new to this game—and for others who have wiped the nightmares of sessions past from their memories—let us take this opportunity to remind you of how this works.
For the next 140 days (and nights—oh Lord, the late nights!), Rob and Shannon will spend an inordinate amount of time watching and listening to your local legislators here in the Big Pink Building in Austin. What we learn we will pass along to you in the form of these weekly updates—but what happens with that information at that point is entirely up to you. Historically a few larger DA offices will send assistant DAs to town to work on their specific policy concerns, but if there is an issue of importance to you, consider getting involved yourself! Remember, we are your eyes and ears here in Austin, but we are not your mouth.
The legislative calendar
Here’s a reminder of the three most 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
For those of you wishing to pass legislation this session … get to it! The official bill filing deadline is March 10, but realistically, if your bill is not filed by the middle of February, it will have a foot in the grave from day one. We are here to help you with anything you need in this area, but don’t wait until it’s too late to decide you need help—contact Shannon with questions now.
Aside from the three key dates listed above, there are also three important early events that determine the trajectory of most sessions.
First, the comptroller will issue his revised revenue estimate for the next biennium. In plain English, that means that he will tell legislators how much—or how little—they can spend (this session will be much, much tighter than last session, despite the recent uptick in crude oil prices). This will happen on Monday, so look for the highlights (or lowlights) from that presentation in our next update.
Second, the House members will select the Speaker. As of right now, no challenger has come forward to die on that hill, leaving current speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) the only person with an open dance card. However, that doesn’t make the speaker election meaningless—the real story is whether the House members decide that “race” by a record vote, and if so, who among them vote “Nay” on principle—and thereby likely condemn themselves to another session of irrelevance after they get sent to the Speaker’s penalty box. (Elections have consequences, right?) We will also address that in more detail next week, so be sure to read that update to see what kind of bed your local legislators have made for themselves here in Austin.
The third and final big precursor to the main session will be the assignment of members to committees. There shouldn’t be much change in the composition of Senate committees from last session, but the House could resemble a jury panel shuffle due to the recent turnover in House members. Those assignments will come out at the end of the month, after which the Legislature can really get down to work in early February.
Meanwhile, during all that time legislators will be feverishly filing bills, and we will be tracking those that we think will be important to you. You can follow some bills through the three bill tracking reports (Penal Code, CCP, and other “Bills to Watch”) we make available to you on our website 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.
Interim committee reports
Legislators received multiple interim committee reports in their Christmas stockings this holiday season. Although not legislation themselves, many interim recommendations turn into bills that will be debated soon enough. Most of the committees we work with have not yet published their reports online, but here’s what is out there so far:
House Committee on Corrections (click to view a copy of the full report)
- Lower penalties for minor drug possession cases, especially those in drug-free zones
- Expand eligibility for expunctions
- Increase pre-trial release for low-risk offenders
- Roll back employment- and license-related collateral consequences of convictions to facilitate rehabilitation and re-entry of offenders
- Revise the probation fee/funding system
- Reduce the use of administrative segregation (solitary confinement) by TDCJ
Senate Committee on Criminal Justice (PDF below)
- Reform civil asset forfeiture (raise State’s burden, increase reporting, provide counsel for indigent respondents, etc.)
- Reduce pre-trial detention through greater use of risk assessments, personal bonds, and pre-trial supervision
- Accelerate the processing of cases involving defendants with mental health issues
- Fund more maximum security mental health beds at state hospitals
- Clarify laws on dash-/body-cam video regarding when they must be used, how they must be stored, and when they must be released to the public.
- Close at least one more TDCJ facility and roll the savings into additional treatment options
- Require OCA to collect data on all pre-trial diversion programs in the state
- Develop a school curriculum for 9th graders teaching them how to interact with law enforcement officers
Commission to Study and Review Certain Penal Laws (PDF below)
- Repeal various statutory offenses outside the Penal Code that have been deemed unconstitutional by the courts, made redundant by other sanctions, or currently have no sanction
- Move numerous criminal offenses outside the Penal Code into the Penal Code
- Standardize many non-Penal Code punishments to match those used in the Penal Code
- Add a mens rea requirement of intentional/knowing to some non-Penal Code offenses
As required by state law, every elected and appointed lawyer in an office prosecuting criminal cases above Class C misdemeanors must, within 180 days of beginning work as a prosecutor, complete a one-hour CLE course on Brady and the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence (See Sec. 41.111, Tex. Gov’t Code.) Fortunately for you, TDCAA offers that court-approved online class for FREE. To comply with this mandatory requirement, go to http://tdcaa.litmos.com/self-signup/register/94678?type=1. Once you complete the course, TDCAA will report your compliance to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
For those of you who have already taken the class, note that the requirement renews every four years. The requirement was enacted in 2014, so we will issue reminders later this year for those who must take a refresher course in 2018.
If you have any questions, call Rob Kepple at 512/474-2436.
We are seeking volunteers to come to Austin during the weeks beginning February 6th and ending the week of May 8th. If interested, please call or email Shannon to learn more about our legislative rotation. It’s a great learning opportunity, and it can help to make you the most knowledgeable person in your jurisdiction when it comes to legislative matters.
Are you following us on Twitter?
Life moves pretty fast—especially at the Legislature. One of the best ways to keep up with the latest news from Austin is to follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/tdcaa). And as a side benefit, you’ll get to read about such things as the guy who walked into our office earlier this week and stole a wallet and iPhone from one of our employees in broad daylight. Stranger than fiction! (Start here and read on for details: https://twitter.com/TDCAA/status/817020183395049472.)
Changing of the guard
We have two new staff changes to tell you about.
It was with mixed feelings that we parted ways two weeks ago with our research attorney, Ashley Martin. She left the nest to begin her career as a prosecutor in the Brazos County DA’s Office, and we couldn’t be prouder of her. However, she left some big shoes to fill, and we are currently working on hiring a new research attorney. Until then, please be patient with us if you have a legal question because we are a little short-handed.
And in the theme of “What was old is new again,” we have a new bookkeeper: Andrew Smith. Some of you might remember Andrew from his previous stint with us as our book salesman, but now he has returned as the person who oversees all the money going in and out of our office, including your seminar reimbursements—so please welcome him “home” and be extra nice to him as he gets his feet wet!
Quotes of the month
“I expect that he will lay out a number that scares the hell out of them.”
—Dale Craymer, former state revenue estimator who now heads the Texas Taxpayer and Research Association, referring to Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s budget press conference coming up on Monday.
“I filed this legislation not to start a controversy but to end one.”
—State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), at the press conference for the filing of her Senate Bill 6, “The Women’s Privacy Act,” aka “The Bathroom Bill.”
“There are many reforms that could be studied, such as pre-trial resources and graduated sanctions, which are valuable and work well. But in the end, it’s all about the money, and until the state bears a greater burden of the costs of rehabilitating people, real reform will be difficult.”
—Excerpt from the House Corrections Committee interim report (page 23).
“Carrying a firearm is a big personal responsibility, and taking a couple of classes for a couple of hours doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ready to carry.”
—State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), explaining why he thinks the state should dispense with licensed carry altogether and pass his constitutional carry bill, HB 375.
“Growing up, we grew up around guns. You know, I have a (concealed handgun license). I’m a hunter. But everybody knows better than to get a gun and fire it up in the air because what goes up must come down.”
—State Rep. Mando Martinez (D-Weslaco), who was struck in the head and injured by a stray “celebratory” bullet on New Year’s Eve.
“You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the combined arrogance and vanity of a legislature.”
—Former Texas Governor John Connally