A timely warning from an experienced observer of the Texas Legislature:
As we enter the last 60 days of this legislative session, remember these words: Nothing is dead while the Legislature is still in Austin. You’ll hear that things are dead. You’ll read somewhere that this or that legislation died on the floor or in committee or in a dark room somewhere. Those stories will be correct — and also wrong.
We are 13/20ths of the way through the session, which does not reduce. Hot topics next week will be the Sandra Bland Act, mental illness and the death penalty, competency restorations, expanding nondisclosures, restricting judicial discretion over probationers, and more (but not asset forfeiture [again], as we once believed) … read on for all the details!
Pre-trial release update
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a somewhat contentious (for them) hearing over SB 1338 by Whitmire (D-Houston), which would completely revise the pre-trial bail process in this state. As expected, bail bondsmen showed up in droves to register against the bill, but there was also testimony against certain provisions of the bill from prosecutors, defense lawyers, and other county officials. Brazoria CDA Jeri Yenne and Potter DA Randall Sims testified before the committee to express their concerns about the bill in its filed version, especially the pre-trial detention hearing that must be held shortly after arrest if a judge wants to deny release to an offender. Upon conclusion of the hearing, the bill was left pending with a promise from Chairman Whitmire and the Office of Court Administration to work with prosecutors to address some of your concerns. That work is going on right now, and we should have more news on that front for you next week. Regardless of the product (if any) that comes from those discussions, your local bail bondsmen are still likely to see this bill as an existential threat to their livelihood, so the bill will still face some big hurdles going forward. Nevertheless, the committee hearing and resulting work on this bill is a good reminder that prosecutors who show up to the Capitol and participate in the policymaking process can get positive results.
If you have further questions on this topic, contact Shannon.
Budget update: Senate Bill 1 in the House
On Thursday, the House took up its version of the budget, SB 1 by Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The debate began around 10:00 a.m. yesterday and didn’t finish until past 1:30 a.m. this morning (which is what happens when members pre-file 465 pages of proposed amendments). Fortunately, none of those amendments directly impacted your business (unless you are the Travis County DA—but don’t worry, that office emerged unscathed). Perhaps that is the silver lining to the depressing fact that the Legislature provides little or no funds for local prosecution—they can’t hurt you by taking away what they don’t give you in the first place.
Freed from the need to watch for overt threats, we were able to enjoy some of the more entertaining aspects of this process, including various attempts to force debates and votes on the hot button issues that have yet to hit the House floor as stand-alone bills, such as school vouchers, bathroom use, border security, fetal tissue research, and more. That entertainment factor has worn off by this morning, though, because now we have to read the final product and figure out what it does. It’s too soon to intelligently report to you on that yet, but we will have more information for you next week. The next step is for the whole kit and caboodle to go to a conference committee, where five senators and five representatives will spend the next month hashing out the final version behind closed doors, after which each chamber will take a final up-or-down vote on the finished product.
The House Human Services Committee finally voted out HB 6 by Frank (R-Wichita Falls) this week. People who like the bill call it the “community-based foster care” bill; people who don’t like it call it “privatization.” The committee substitute that was finally approved puts in motion a transfer of foster care and case management services in two DFPS regions—one is Region 3b around Fort Worth, and the other is to be identified later. There was a lot of discussion in committee about the mechanics of the transfer of cases from CPS to the “single source continuum contractor” (SSCC) in those regions, along with testimony for and against the proposed handoff. As it currently stands, the bill will rely on the contract between DFPS and the SSCC to spell out the SSCC’s duties when it comes to working with prosecutors and the courts. It seems pretty clear with the Senate’s passage of SB 11 by Schwertner and the movement of HB 6 in the House that this community-based model is going to happen, but there may still be opportunities to improve the bill when it makes it to the House floor. If you have questions or concerns, contact Rob.
Public Information Act bills
On Monday, the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee took testimony on HB 3107 by Ashby (R-Lufkin). This bill is aimed at curbing abuses by serial PIA requestors who make voluminous and repetitive requests, put in motion excessive work by government employees, and then don’t pick up the requested documents. The bill has support of government organizations and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. The bill does not have a Senate companion, but here’s hoping it will move soon.
That committee also heard and left pending six other bills that day that we are tracking, and all told, we are following more than 60 PIA-related bills this session. If you are curious to see what those are and where they are (or are not) going, check out the attached list of bills.
Bills on the move
This category is getting longer and longer, so we’re going to streamline it a bit, as follows:
House bills headed to the Senate
HB 1729 by Neave (funding of rape kit testing program)
House bills approved by committee and sent to the Calendars Committee
HB 9 by Capriglione (cybercrime)
HB 29 by S. Thompson (vacatur of convictions against victims of human trafficking)
HB 81 by Moody (de-criminalization of < 1 oz. of marijuana)
HB 122 by Dutton (raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction)
HB 383 by Murphy (enhancements for repeat misdemeanor offenders)
HB 1218 by Johnson (reducing punishments for repeat prostitution convictions)
HB 1431 by Moody (coercion in sexual assault cases)
Senate bills headed to the House
SB 42 by Zaffirini (court security)
SB 91 by Hall (limits on automatic license plate readers)
SB 227 by Huffman (Adderall fix)
SB 291 by Whitmire (new witness attachment procedures)
SB 302 by Watson (State Bar sunset bill)
SB 325 by Burton (expunction upon prosecutor request)
SB 327 by Burton (return of expunction fees)
SB 576 by Huffman (reporting of sexual assaults on campus)
SB 1329 by Huffman (omnibus court creation bill)
SB 1575 by Perry (assault and chunking enhancements in civil commitment facilities).
Senate bills approved by committee
SB 1250 by West (admissibility of more evidence in injury to a child cases)
SB 1264 by Huffman (counseling for grand jurors)
Upcoming floor debates
Now that the budget is off to a conference committee, the House will start doing more work on the floor. Its current floor agenda only goes through Tuesday right now and includes: HB 281 by Howard (rape kit tracking system), HB 322 by Canales (expunction of veterans court records), and HB 1178 by Kuempel (enhancements for theft from pharmacies).
In the Senate, bills eligible for debate starting Monday include: SB 970 by Watson (sexual assault policies for colleges and universities); SB 1090 by Lucio (unlawful restraint of a dog); and SB 1576 by Perry (omnibus civil commitment bill).
Here’s a partial list of what is coming up this week (based on hearing notices received at press time). To see the full agenda for each listed committee—including links to the individual bills—click on the committee name.
*** MONDAY, APRIL 10 ***
House Criminal Jurisprudence, 2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, Room E2.014
HB 73 by Guillen creating a “good Samaritan” defense for certain drug offenses for defendants seeking assistance for a suspected overdose
HB 162 by Lucio III relating to conditions of community supervision for defendants convicted of certain criminal offenses involving animals
HB 524 by Villalba increasing punishments for certain offenses involving family violence
HB 557 by Collier authorizing prosecutors to seek expunction after acquittal
HB 1122 by Wray making admissible CAC video statements made by child abuse victims
HB 1287 by Rose relating to electronic monitoring as an alternative to confinement
HB 2222 by Hunter making confidential the home address information of certain victims
HB 2283 by Isaac relating to the prosecution of sexual assaults in certain child care facilities
HB 2286 by Landgraf relating to the grand juror qualifications and to the selection of grand jurors
HB 2509 by Parker relating to the eligibility of certain trafficking victims for an order of nondisclosure
HB 2575 by Meyer relating to certain requirements imposed on a sex offender who enters the premises of a school
HB 2583 by Martinez prohibiting the reckless discharge of a firearm
HB 3016 by S. Thompson retroactively expanding orders of nondisclosure to more offenses/offenders
HB 3080 by Rose excluding certain persons with “severe mental illness” from the death penalty
HB 3165 by Moody relating to the duties of a personal bond pretrial release office
HB 3189 by D. Bonnen relating to court-ordered prescription drug substance abuse treatment
HB 3192 by T. Uresti relating to the punishment of certain offenses committed against a child, an elderly individual, or a disabled individual
HB 3237 by Moody clarifying when search warrant affidavits become public information
HB 3637 by Ortega relating to the use of video conference technology in criminal proceedings
HB 3655 by Herrero relating to grants for monitoring defendants in family violence cases
HB 3729 by White reducing fines, fees, and costs imposed in Class C offenses
HB 3872 by Lucio III granting yet further post-conviction forensic DNA testing in certain cases
HB 3978 by Moody relating to consent in sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault cases
HB 4102 by Neave relating to a grant program for testing rape kit evidence
House Government Transparency and Operation, 2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, Room E2.028
HB 3491 by Meyer limiting the use of a biometric identifiers by a governmental body
HB 3492 by Elkins authorizing certain county and district clerks to obtain and retain identifying information of a person filing a document
*** TUESDAY, APRIL 11 ***
House Homeland Security & Public Safety, 8:00 a.m., Room E2.014
HB 103 by Dutton re-authorizing body cavity searches in correctional facilities
HB 255 by Anchia limiting the licensed carrying of handguns at certain recreational facilities
HB 514 by Simmons relating to the authority of certain personal protection officers to carry certain weapons
HB 899 by Nevárez changing the notice necessary to prohibit a handgun license holder from carrying a handgun on private property
HB 1864 by S. Thompson relating to training on interactions during traffic stops
HB 2068 by Phillips relating to the repeal of the driver responsibility program
HB 2702 by Coleman, aka the Sandra Bland Act
HB 3922 by Stucky authorizing judges with LTCs to carry in 30.06 locations
Senate Criminal Justice, 1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, Room E1.016
SB 239 by Campbell relating to a parent's right to view the body of a deceased child before an autopsy is performed
SB 1183 by Perry relating to procedures regarding criminal defendants who are or may be persons with a mental illness or an intellectual disability
SB 1273 by Rodríguez creating new procedures for an application for a writ of habeas corpus in certain felony cases where the state agrees to relief
SB 1298 by Huffman relating to the selection and summons of prospective grand jurors
SB 1326 by Zaffirini relating to procedures regarding criminal defendants who are or may be persons with a mental illness or an intellectual disability.
SB 1487 by West relating to racial profiling
SB 1504 by V. Taylor relating to the eligibility of certain victims of trafficking of persons for an order of nondisclosure
SB 1584 by Garcia requiring least-restrictive conditions of community supervision based on risk assessments for all probationers
SB 1913 by Zaffirini reducing fines, fees, and costs imposed in Class C offenses
SB 2176 by Hughes adding certain substances to Penalty Groups 1 and 3
House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, 2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, Room E2.026
HB 214 by Canales relating to recording certain proceedings of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals and the publication of the recordings
HB 1226 by Herrero exempting firefighters and police officers from jury service
HB 1538 by Dutton granting certain job protections to grand jurors
HB 2770 by Smithee relating to the declaration of a common nuisance involving a computer network or web address
HB 3739 by Murr relating to the distribution of the consolidated court cost
HB 3971 by Schofield changing the method of calculating the salary of state judges
*** WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12 ***
House Corrections, 8:00 a.m., Room E2.028
HB 2883 by Allen requiring least-restrictive conditions of community supervision based on risk assessments for all probationers
HB 2888 by Romero relating to an inmate’s completion of programs before being released on parole
HB 3130 by Parker establishing a rehab pilot program for certain state jail felony defendants
HB 3269 by Coleman relating to certain contraband searches conducted in TDCJ
HB 3289 by White limiting revocations for technical violations of community supervision
HB 3829 by Schaefer relating to violations of parole or mandatory supervision
House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues, 10:30 or upon adjournment, Room E2.016
HB 1080 by S. Thompson relating to certain procedural measures in a suit affecting a parent-child relationship to protect a child against child neglect or physical or sexual abuse.
HB 2863 by White relating to the confidentiality, sharing, sealing, and destruction of juvenile records
HB 2879 by Dutton shortening juvenile sex offender registration periods, more
HB 3477 by Neave protecting employees who in good faith reports child abuse or neglect
*** THURSDAY, APRIL 13 ***
[No hearings posted yet]
In addition to those TDCAA members we mentioned earlier … Chambers CA Scott Peal and Hunt ACA Trevor Melvin represented prosecutors at the Capitol this week on a variety of issues … Ellis C&DA Patrick Wilson testified in favor of SB 707 by Birdwell (CAC video admissibility) … Comal CDA Jennifer Tharp testified for SB 179 by Menendez (cyber bullying) … Wise CA James Stainton testified in favor of HB 1322 by Burns (non-lawyer JPs signing DWI blood search warrants)… Tarrant ACDA Riley Shaw testified for SB 1304 by Perry (juvenile records) and SB 1728 by Birdwell (juvenile open courts) … Tarrant ACDA David Alex, Comal ACDA Robyn Katz, and Harris ADA Jessica Milligan testified in support of HB 1357 by Moody (animal cruelty enhancements) … did we miss anyone else? If so, let us know. And remember, if you’re coming to Austin, TDCAA headquarters is your one-stop shop for free parking, free refreshments, free wi-fi, and free reconnaissance for that particular day at the Capitol. Don’t be shy, we’re here to help!
Quotes of the week
“It’s a hit, no doubt. He basically got ambushed.”
—Unnamed official assisting with the investigation of the murder of Harris County Chief Deputy Constable Clint Greenwood outside his courthouse annex office early Monday morning. Greenwood, who also served as an assistant district attorney in Harris County from 2009–2013, expressed concerns last week that he felt threatened by someone he had investigated.
“I lived with these guys. I used to sleep next to them. I took showers with them. There’s no reason we shouldn’t know their background. … We need that transparency.”
—Michael Morton, former exoneree, testifying before the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in favor of HB 34 by Smithee (R-Amarillo), which would standardize certain practices in relation to the use of jailhouse informants (among other changes).
“We are not expanding gambling in Texas; we are letting Texans play a game of skill.”
—State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo), author of HB 1457, one of the fantasy sports bills opposed by the Baptist General Convention.
“We’re not against fantasy football. We’re against the commercialization of fantasy football that would operate like a casino.”
—Rob Kohler, lobbyist for the Baptist General Convention, explaining their opposition to bills heard this week that would legalize daily fantasy sports wagering.
“The shortest answer? Joe Straus. He gave the subject matter its due time and credit. It’s never been elevated to this level before. I’m glad to see other state leaders jumping on board, but why is it front and center? Because the speaker of the Texas House put it front and center.”
—State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), when asked why lawmakers are finally making mental health reform a priority this session.
“Sometimes All You Need Is A Billion Dollars.”
—Sign on an abacus used as a prop during the layout of the House version of the state budget bill yesterday.
“The House will stand at ease for five minutes to allow the parliamentarian to dispose of his tobacco.”
—Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), after State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston)—a smoker—ratted out the parliamentarian for using smokeless tobacco during the budget debate. Tobacco products are banned on the House floor.
“How did you hatch this idea?” Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, asked Taylor.
—State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Canton), asking a question of State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) in regard to Taylor’s SB 1620, which would prevent cities from banning people from keeping chickens in their backyards. The “debate” over the bill led to almost 15 minutes of cringe-worthy puns and barnyard sounds from the Senate floor; to watch the fun, click here (starting at the 2:34:10 mark).
“Thank goodness it’s Masters Week! We need something to take our thoughts off how bad this session is about to get. (BTW, Jordan Spieth is the obvious pick to wear the next green jacket, but if you want some dark horse candidates, keep an eye on Paul Casey or Dustin Johnson. Trust us, the Charley Hoffmans of the tour don’t win green jackets.)”
—From our 2015 legislative update. Of course, Spieth did go on to win the Masters that year, but seeing Charley Hoffman at the top of the leaderboard this morning reminded us that the Charley Hoffmans and Will McGirts of the world *still* don’t win that tournament. We have a feeling it’s time for another Spaniard (Garcia or Rahm) to don the green jacket. Let’s see what happens!