TDCAA Legislative Update: Week Zero

            Yes, that’s right, this is Week Zero* because Austin is already being invaded by legislative Huns even though the session doesn’t convene until Tuesday of next week. [* - Kudos to the UIL football geniuses for inventing the term.] Therefore, today we will kick off our series of weekly updates so that you can keep up with the important happenings in Austin. Our goal is to help make you the most well-informed person in your courthouse on the legislative issues that will affect our court system, so feel free to share your new-found knowledge with those who share your goals and concerns.

 

Mandatory training reminder

            Before we dive into legislative information, we want to remind everyone of two mandatory training requirements for new prosecutors.

            The first mandatory training relates to a prosecutor’s duty to disclose exculpatory and mitigating evidence, as required by Gov’t Code §41.111. Every new prosecutor—whether elected, appointed, or hired—has 180 days from the date of his or her hire/appointment/election to complete the training. Thanks to funding from the Criminal Justice Section of the State Bar and the Court of Criminal Appeals, prosecutors can complete the required training for FREE through this online portal of our website: http://tdcaa.litmos.com/online-courses. (This course also satisfies the requirement for existing prosecutors to take subsequent classes every four years; contact TDCAA if you aren’t sure when you last took the class.)

            The second training requirement is for elected prosecutors and relates to the Public Information Act, as required by Gov’t Code §552.012. Every newly-elected prosecutor (or your public information officer, if you have one) must complete this course within 90 days of taking the oath of office. The AG’s Office has also created an online course that satisfies this training requirement; to complete it, visit https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/open-government/governmental-bodies/pia-and-oma-training-resources/public-information-act-training.

 

Important legislative dates 

            If your Texas civics lessons have gotten a little fuzzy after all these years, never fear! We are here to remind you how all of this works. (Or doesn’t work, as the case may be.)

            Every odd-numbered year, the Texas legislature convenes on the second Tuesday in January and meets in regular session for 140 days. For the upcoming 86th Regular Session, the following dates might deserve a place on your 2019 calendar:

 

            Tuesday, January 8:                86th Legislature convenes

            Tuesday, January 15:              Inauguration Day for the governor and lt. governor

            Friday, March 8:                     60th Day; final day to file unrestricted bills

            Monday, May 27:                   140th Day, aka Sine Die; session ends

            Sunday, June 16:                    Deadline for governor to veto a bill

            Sunday, September 1:             General effective date for most new legislation

 

            Other things that will take place the first four weeks of session include the election of the speaker of the House, the governor’s State of the State address, the chief justice’s State of the Judiciary address, the adoption of House and Senate rules, the naming of committee members, and the filing of a few thousand bills. (Don’t worry, we read them so you don’t have to!) The 60-day bill filing deadline forces the first month or two of session to focus on filing bills; the remaining 80 days are then dedicated to passing or killing them, and that is when prosecutors who are interested in supporting or opposing legislation that they did not file can have the greatest impact on the process.

 

Legislative rotation sign-up

            This is probably a good point at which to remind you to contact Shannon for details on how you can get involved in the legislative process—even if it is only to get an up-close-and-personal view of the sausage-making for your first time. If you know when you’d like to come to Austin, give those dates to Shannon so he can get you on the calendar; if not, reach out and ask him for suggestions on when a visit may best suit your goals. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease at the Capitol, so don’t be shy—your legislators need to hear from you!

 

Bill updates

            It’s an oft-cited fact that half of all filed bills will never get a committee hearing, meaning many bills are DOF (Dead On Filing) even if no one knows it at the time. We can’t predict with certainty which bills will or won’t move, but we can make some educated guesses, so with that caveat in mind, here are ten pre-filed bills you might want to read up on while we wait for session to get started:

 

HB 63 by Moody, creating civil penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana

HB 182 by Canales, changing the burden of proof in civil asset forfeiture cases and limiting federal adoptions

HB 184 by Canales, requiring prosecutors to provide cost/benefit information for all proposed plea bargain sentences

HB 215 & HJR 22 by Reynolds, disqualifying local prosecutors from handling officer-involved shootings

HB 404 by Thompson, S., repealing civil asset forfeiture

HB 549 by Canales, authorizing either party in a criminal case to object to the appointment of a visiting judge

SB 90 by Menendez, legalizing medical marijuana

SB 191 by Miles, repealing the Driver Responsibility Program and replacing it with other fees

SB 223 by Seliger, de-linking legislators’—but not DAs’—ERS retirement from the judicial benchmark salary

 

There are many more where these came from, but this is a sample of some of the 270 bills we are tracking to date. (And again, these are just some bills that you might want to have on your legislative radar at this early stage; what will eventually happen to them—if anything—remains to be seen.) To read up on any bill, go to https://capitol.texas.gov/, enter the bill number in the appropriate field, and click “go”—then on the subsequent webpage, select the tab at the top of the page for the information (history, bill text, actions, authors, etc.) you want. And as always, you can contact Shannon or Rob if you are having trouble finding the information you seek.

 

Session overview

            For a preview of some of the many issues that are likely to be debated in Austin this spring, check out this report from the House Research Organization. It briefly discusses topics like bail/pre-trial release, civil asset forfeiture, grand juries, Raise the Age, state jail felonies, and drug crime penalties, and more. None of this should be news to anyone who has been reading our updates over the interim, but if you’d like to see some of the major issues in criminal justice (and other policy areas) laid out in summary form, this is a good resource.

 

Fun with names

            If you’ve ever been frustrated by our laws’ inconsistent references to who is a “child,” a “juvenile,” or a “minor,” you are not alone. In fact, last session the Legislature asked the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to examine the extent of that problem. The result is a new report (PDF version available here) that identifies the inconsistencies but also points out the difficulties in standardizing one definition for each of those terms. As requested by the Legislature, the report also looks into various alternatives for handling youths’ non-traffic Class C offenses, including the possibility of turning all of those (tens of thousands of) criminal citations into “civil violations” as was done with truancy cases a few sessions ago. For all the details, read the report.

 

New felony judgment forms

            As we told you last month, OCA has updated its felony judgment forms, instructions, affirmative orders, and special findings, all of which can be found at http://www.txcourts.gov/rules-forms/forms/. The revised forms became effective on January 1, 2019. If you have any questions or concerns, please call Margie Johnson, OCA Assistant General Counsel, at (512) 936-1183, or email her at [email protected].

 

Prosecutor Trial Skills Course registration

            Registration is open for our January 2019 Prosecutor Trial Skills Course in Austin. From plea-bargaining to closing argument, this training will cover the tips and tools necessary to see that justice is done, both for new prosecutors and those just looking for a refresher. For more information on dates, the location, and the agenda, or to register, please click here.

 

Quotes of the Month

 

“There aren’t enough forensic scientists. There aren’t enough lab techs that are trained to do this.”
            —State Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), explaining why most of the state’s crowd-sourced funding for analyzing backlogged rape kits has not yet been spent.

 

“They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake.”
            —Erik Polka, a Chandler (AZ) business owner who has been cited by police for repeatedly harassing experimental self-driving vehicles operating in that town after one of them struck his son.

 

“I tried to get ahead of the perceived problems, and in this case, we’re certainly not taking away any tools in the toolbox and not taking away any of [law enforcement’s] authority. We’re just sanctioning small possessions in a different way. I think it’s a practical thing for me, the court system, the community and taxpayers.”
            —State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), describing his bill (HB 63) to “sanction” possession of small amounts of marijuana as civil, rather than criminal, cases.

 

“The way to open the door to legalization is through medical marijuana. Our state leaders are very aware of where we have stood for years on marijuana use and the legalization of marijuana—which we think is the end game on all of these processes that are taking place.”
            —Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback, legislative director for the Sheriffs Association of Texas, on upcoming efforts to legalize all forms of medical marijuana in Texas.

 

“I enjoyed driving my ‘98 Jeep Wrangler with a lift, Flowmaster, and six floodlights over to the White House when President Bush was president and I was able to park it on the driveway—not in the back, in the front. President Bush didn’t seem to mind. Although before I left, I did leave a little Texas oil on the driveway of the White House.”
            —Retiring Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), a former Harris County prosecutor and judge, on his favorite memory from his stint in Congress. [For this source and related comments, read this compilation of comments from retiring members of Texas’ congressional delegation.]

 

“Judgements are made before you get to know someone, and reaching across the aisle is something you don’t see much of anymore.”
            —Retiring Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), in that same article.

 

“[T]here is really no better good-bye than the words of Davy Crockett when he left Congress, when he said, affectionately: ‘You may all go to hell, I am going to Texas.’”
            —Congressman Poe, in his farewell address to his fellow House members.

 

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