We have completed 3/20ths (15 percent) of the 85th Regular Session. Things are about to get exciting—let’s hope we’re not in the middle of all that excitement!
The Governor’s State of the State Address will be given on Monday. That event is the traditional signpost for the “end of the beginning” of a session. It is also the point at which governors traditionally announce any items that they deem to be emergencies—and not just in a figurative sense. Article III, Section 5 of the state constitution prohibits either chamber from passing legislation during the first 60 days of a session, but it provides an exception for “emergency matters” announced by the governor. We will be sure to let you know if anything in our bailiwick rises to that level this session—early wagering has sanctuary cities and CPS reform at the head of that list (more on that below).
In addition to the governor, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht gets to give a State of the Judiciary speech the day following the governor’s State of the State Address. The former is more likely to touch on issues concerning you than the latter, but the latter is more likely to include items that will actually pass than the former. That’s not the Chief’s fault, it’s just the way the Lege works. (Or doesn’t work.) Other than that, it should be quiet next week pending the appointment of House committees by the Speaker (we’re guessing those come down on Thursday, but please, no wagering). Until then, enjoy the end of the peace and quiet because it’s about to get loud here in Austin.
As committees convene and start to set bills for consideration, we will try to include all the relevant hearings in these Friday updates.
The Senate usually gets the ball rolling first, and this session is no exception. Normally, committees can’t approve bills during the first 30 days of a session (which would be through February 9 this session) unless that bill concerns an emergency matter, so these notices give us a preview of what Gov. Abbott is going to declare as emergencies in his speech on Tuesday.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2
It is also possible that the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services could post a hearing on short notice for SB 11 by Schwertner (CPS reforms) if that is made an emergency item by the governor, but nothing formal had been posted when this went to press.
Bills to watch
With six weeks left in the bill filing period, the Legislature has filed only about 30 percent of the total number of bills that lawmakers will eventually submit. While we wait for that incoming tsunami, let’s look at some of what has already been filed.
Last week we highlighted some major issues that will be debated this session. However, most legislation during a session involves lower-profile matters that don’t always generate much public interest but are still important to those who care about them. In that vein, we are going to list here some bills that have been suggested by prosecutors or are likely to be encouraged/opposed by some prosecutors. But before we do that, a caveat: We try not to waste time informing you about legislation that is not going to pass, but that is not an exact science. That doesn’t mean that everything we discuss here over the next 17 weeks will become law or that something we don’t discuss here will never become law; it only means that we will try to bring you more wheat than chaff.
So, with that said, let’s go through some bills of interest. (Each bill includes a hyperlink to view it online, or you can always enter the bill number into the legislation search box at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/ and click on the “text” tab at the top of the next page.)
Bill Track: From prosecutors (*If you proposed a bill that has been filed and it’s not on this list, let us know so we can track it as yours!)
HB 909 by Romero extending mental health emergency detention periods from 48 hours to 72 hours (from Tarrant Co. CDA Sharen Wilson)
HB 1122 by Wray authorizing CAC forensic interview videos to be admitted at trial (from Ellis County C&DA Patrick Wilson)
HB 1266 by Geren requiring three business days’ notice of a hearing or trial in a criminal matter (from Tarrant Co. CDA Sharen Wilson)
HB 1268 by Schaefer authorizing the State to examine grand jurors for challenges for cause (from Smith Co. CDA Matt Bingham)
Bill Track: Bail/bond/pretrial release
HB 608 by Dutton mandating release on personal bond for most misdemeanor offenders
Bill Track: CCP changes (general)
HB 429 by Villalba adding first responders as a protected class under the hate crimes law
HB 574 by Thompson prohibiting arrest for Class C offenses
HB 722 by Longoria creating a “wobbler” sentence for certain SJF probationers
HB 1214 by Alonzo creating a defendant’s right to a pre-trial hearing
SB 271 by Burton prohibiting arrest for Class C offenses
SB 291 by Whitmire regulating the use of writs of attachment
SB 381 by Burton limiting the authority of peace officers to conduct certain warrantless searches
Bill Track: Death Penalty
HB 147 by Dutton barring a death sentence for certain defendants convicted under the law of parties
HB 316 by Canales barring a death sentence for any defendant convicted under the law of parties
Bill Track: Drugs
HB 82 by Dutton making POM < 1 oz. a Class C misdemeanor
HB 680 by Wu making POM < 0.35 oz. (~10g) a Class C misdemeanor
SB 227 by Huffman fixing the Adderall loophole from last session
Bill Track: Juveniles
HB 122 by Dutton raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18
HB 676 by Wu raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 (but in a different way)
HB 1015 by Dutton raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 (but in yet another different way)
SB 424 by Rodriguez prohibiting indeterminate TJJD sentences for children under 14
SB 556 by Rodriguez granting earlier parole eligibility to juvenile murderers
Bill Track: PC changes (general)
HB 591 by Minjarez increasing penalties for assault causing permanent paralysis
Bill Track: Prosecutor authority/jurisdiction/status
HB 685 by Wu eliminating the State’s right to jury punishment in felony cases
HB 854 by Reynolds disqualifying local prosecutors from officer-involved shootings and requiring OAG to appoint a special prosecutor
HB 1278 by Dutton making confidential certain personal information of elected prosecutors
HJR 20 by Dutton prohibiting the governor from filling a judicial vacancy with certain former prosecutors
Bill Track: Sex crimes/criminals
HB 1087 by Alvarado creating the offense of bestiality
Bill Track: Traffic laws
Whew! OK, that’s plenty for now. And remember, this is just a sampling of some of the 600+ bills we are currently tracking (and that number will double over the next six weeks). To follow along with us, we keep live tracking updates for the Penal Code, CCP, and a few other “Bills to Watch” on the Legislative page of our website. If you are curious to know exactly what bills we are tracking under any other category, email Shannon and he can send you a list that will include hyperlinks to each bill’s text online.
Our dance card is starting to fill up, but we are still seeking a few more volunteers to come to Austin during the weeks beginning February 6th and ending May 15th. Please call or email Shannon to learn more about our legislative volunteer program. It’s a great learning opportunity, and it will make you the most knowledgeable person back home when it comes to what’s going on in Austin this session.
Quotes of the month
“The agriculture commissioner needs to do his job and stick to that, and I’ll do my job. You tell him I said that.”
—Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez, in response to Ag Commissioner Sid Miller posting a claim on his Facebook page that illegal aliens attacked a hunting party in his county. After investigation, it’s the sheriff’s belief that the hunters mistakenly fired on one another.
“Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor, and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”
—State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), responding to Gov. Abbott’s statement on FOX News that he wants legislation authorizing the state to remove new Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez from office if she fails to cooperate fully with ICE.
“Trump was watching Dancing with the Stars and I’m told he said, ‘Melania, that guy can’t dance, but he has a lot of energy—Energy! That’s what I need him for!”
—Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, joking during a luncheon speech on the UT-Austin campus about why President Trump nominated former Governor Rick Perry to be U.S. Secretary of Energy.
Overheard at the [Harris County] courthouse: A woman on her phone, “Why didn’t you wake me up for my Life Skills class?!”
—Tweet by Brian Rogers, courthouse reporter for the Houston Chronicle.