Legislators returned to Austin on Tuesday, July 18, and the knives came out almost immediately. In a speech hosted by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, the lite guv made a sidebar comment that he thought the speaker was part of a group of anonymous Republicans that want to pass a state income tax in Texas—which everyone knows is b.s., but you can imagine the gasps in the audience when something like that gets uttered in polite GOP company. Then it was the governor’s turn, as he announced at the same event that he was going to channel his inner Santa Claus and start keeping a daily list of Republican legislators who were for or against his 20 agenda items for the special session. (Although as at least one observer has pointed out, that could be a moving target because there are multiple bills addressing some of the governor’s agenda items and it isn’t always clear which one he favors.)
As for actual legislating, that got off to a quick start in the Senate, where several procedural rules were suspended to fast track the sunset bill that is the primary reason for this special session. The fact that the Senate suspended its own rules is not something new—they literally do it every day of a regular session in which they take a floor vote—but the rules they suspended this time (over the strenuous objections of the Democratic minority) were personal privilege rules granted to senators that had not been suspended since before the invention of color TV. As a result of these and a few other strong-arm maneuvers, there are already a lot of resentments and hurt feelings simmering under the Capitol dome. Add that to Austin’s heat and humidity at this time of year, and the results could become combustible.
Meanwhile, legislators have filed almost 400 bills, of which we are half-heartedly following 40 or so. Most (all?) of them are dead on arrival because they are not on the governor’s agenda for the special session, but never say never. Strange things can happen at the Legislature, rules be damned, so we’ll continue to watch events transpire and alert you if anything crazy happens in our bailiwick.
The Senate passed its version of a sunset fix (Item No. 1 on the special session agenda) on Thursday right after midnight (so it was really early Friday), and Senate committees will meet over the weekend to fast-track bills on other items that have been assigned to them. The House will take up the Senate’s sunset fix next week, and once that is sent to the governor, it will be very interesting to see what the “sunset and sine die” crowd decide to do. We are skeptical the House will close up shop and go home—although they can if they so wish—but most Austin pundits think the Legislature will remain in session for the full 30 days, deliver on about half of the governor’s 20 agenda items, and then it will be up to him to decide whether to declare victory and go home, or drag them back to Austin for more.
DPS crime lab pay-to-play
As you may now be hearing, on Thursday we learned that the DPS crime lab will start charging for various services sometime after September 1, 2017. The agency has posted more information and their new fee schedule at http://www.dps.texas.gov/docs/rider58.pdf. We are told that this was a last-minute change made behind closed doors as part of the final conference committee budget, which is why no one knew about it until after it was done. While DPS has long had the statutory authority to assess these fees, wouldn’t it have been nice to have some input into the decision before—rather than after—the Legislature set it in stone in the state budget without telling anyone?
Elected felony prosecutor retirement fix
It is county budget season again and we have received several calls about that small supplement the counties started getting from the state in 2015 to pass through to elected felony prosecutors to make up for the increased retirement deductions that began then. Because district judges (and thus, felony prosecutors) did not get a raise this session, the state budget-writers left that supplement in place for the next two years. As a result, you can let your auditor know that the checks will keep coming after September 1, 2017, just as they did before.
Legislative Update CLEs
Online registration for our popular Legislative Update seminars is available HERE. We are coming to 21 different locations throughout the state this summer to help everyone get up to speed on the relevant statutory changes made during the session. All attendees qualify for 3 hours or CLE and/or TCOLE credit and receive a copy of our 116-page Legislative Update book. TDCAA members who register online receive a $25 discount off the $125 registration fee, but online registration closes a few days before each seminar, so don’t delay, register today!
Pre-sales begin for 2017 code books
Receive one of the first shipments of our new Penal Codes, Codes of Criminal Procedure, and other books by pre-ordering now on the TDCAA website (www.tdcaa.com/publications) or by calling us at 512/474-2436.
Quotes of the week
“I’m going to be establishing a list. We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out: Who is for this, who is against this, who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”
—Gov. Greg Abbott, in a speech earlier this week to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“You are going to see a contrast between the House and the Senate in the special session. We aren’t going to allow the Senate to continue to try to bully their way through the House. It’s a separate chamber for a purpose.”
—State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), defending his chamber from some of the less-than-friendly-fire coming across the Capitol rotunda.
“Let me tell you, those of us in Austin, we are no dumber or smarter than you are. Those in Washington, D.C., are just as bad. They are no dumber or smarter than we are. So, why are we going to tell you, the school board member, how to make a decision? How are we going to tell you, the city mayor or city council member, you were elected, how to run the city?”
—State Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, addressing the increasing legislative attacks on local control during a recent speech to the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“Anything other than Gorsuch is just gravy. Even if he just tweeted and pissed people off now, I’d be happy.”
—Doug Deason, multimillionaire GOP donor from Dallas, responding (with tongue in cheek) to a reporter’s question about the dissatisfaction of certain conservative and libertarian donors with the slow pace of reforms in Washington, D.C. after the change in administration.
“You could take every non-violent offender out of prison today. We would still have mass incarceration. Targeting low-level offenders is necessary, but it cannot resolve the prison population problem by itself.”
—Michael Jacobson, director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, admitting what we all know: Criminal justice reformers must reduce sentences for violent offenders to have a real impact on prison population, because that is who is there.
“It raises the question: How will you ever get a guilty verdict?”
—Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council in St. Paul, MN, after the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile was acquitted last month.
“We have some great police officers. … I support our police officers. But I think good police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior.’ ... So this isn’t a message we’re trying to send to our good police officers. Hopefully, it is a message we’re sending to bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”
—Dallas County Criminal DA Faith Johnson, on the recent indictment of a Balch Springs officer for the murder of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in April.