What a fantastic turnout we had at this year’s Annual Criminal & Civil Law Update in Corpus Christi! If you missed this one, be sure to mark your calendars for our next Annual Update in South Padre Island, which will be held September 16–18, 2020.
Mass shootings lead to new interim committees
The recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa have resulted in a flurry of activity at the state capitol, although it may be awhile before any of it bears fruit (more on that in a minute).
For starters, Governor Abbott issued a series of eight executive orders, most of which focused on making the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network more robust. (If you’ve never heard of “TxSARNet,” you can find a primer about it here.) For your purposes, the most relevant of the executive orders will require quicker entry of court events and dispositions by local counties starting next year, upon pain of financial sanctions for counties that fail to comply. (But don’t count on any additional funding to help with that compliance, of course.)
Meanwhile, the speaker and lieutenant governor have each created a Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety for their respective chambers. The House select committee held its organizational meeting during our annual conference, and the Senate select committee met last week for similar purposes. The committees’ charges for the interim overlap but are not identical, so it will be interesting to see how their ultimate recommendations differ heading into next session.
And yes, it is likely to be next session (2021) before the legislature takes any concrete action in response to the recent spate of mass shootings in Texas. There are several reasons for that, but perhaps the main impediment is that there is no consensus on what laws should be changed in response to these events, and governors rarely call a legislature back to Austin without having a proposed solution already baking in the oven. Furthermore, if the state House re-convenes in Austin, there is a non-zero chance that the current speaker might face a palace coup and be deposed, which could further complicate any attempt to limit future mass shootings (not to mention the upcoming elections and the constitutionally-mandated redistricting efforts to come). As a result, you can probably expect more studying than actual legislating on this issue between now and when the next regularly-scheduled session will convene in January 2021.
State audit of sexual assault cases
The State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is starting to tackle the sexual assault audit it has been tasked with conducting this interim by the legislature. (Click this link and scroll down to Rider No. 5 for all the details.) As we told attendees of our recent Legislative Update tour, the SAO may be reaching out to offices with felony jurisdiction to collect data on how sexual assault cases between 2014–2018 were handled, so don’t be surprised if you receive such a request. We have been cooperating with that agency to help the auditors better understand prosecutors’ role in those cases, but only you can ultimately provide them with the data and other information they need to complete their task, so please cooperate with them if they come and knock on your door. This may be an excellent opportunity to both brag on your office’s positive outcomes while also identifying any lack of resources you may experience in trying to obtain justice in these important cases.
If you have any questions about this audit, contact Shannon.
Legislative Update tour recap
Speaking of our Legislative Update tour, it is D-O-N-E done! We trained almost 3,400 people this summer, shattering all previous attendance records for this course. Some of that may be due to our legislature creating enough hemp-related confusion this session to increase demand for our products, but we also like to think that our updates are popular because we give our customers the earliest and most thorough review of the changes they need to know about to properly do their jobs, both through our regional presentations and our various code books. Special thanks go to Montgomery County Assistant DA Tiana Sanford and Tarrant County Assistant CDA Vincent Giardino (and their bosses!) for extending their legislative liaison duties into the summer and sharing their knowledge and insights with our attendees. Getting this important information out to our members and others in the criminal justice community in a timely (and entertaining!) fashion is a team effort, and our team came through in the clutch this year.
Only two (and a half) trainings left in 2019!
Registration is now open for TDCAA’s Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar. This year’s event will be held November 6–8 at the Embassy Suites in beautiful San Marcos. Event and registration information can be found here.
Our 2019 Elected Prosecutor Conference will be held at the Lakeway Resort & Spa in Lakeway, Texas (just outside Austin on half-full-but-still-lovely Lake Travis). The curriculum will include topics such as the rise in domestic terrorism and responding effectively to cases of domestic violence and adult sexual assault, as well as numerous opportunities for networking and solution sharing. Registration information is available here.
Note that immediately prior to the Elected course, TDCAA is offering a special Prosecutor Management Institute (PMI) Course designed specifically for elected prosecutors. Click here for information regarding that stand-alone course.
New code books
We have received several pallets’ worth of shiny new code books that are ready to be shipped in the upcoming weeks, so now is the time to order your copies of the 2019–’21 Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Annotated Criminal Laws of Texas if you haven’t already placed an order. Visit www.tdcaa.com/books to get that ball rolling and guarantee that you have the right code books at hand when enforcing all the new laws that recently went into effect.
Quotes of the Month
“It is a national issue. This is not anything that is limited to just a few states.”
—Duffie Stone, 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor (SC) and president of the National District Attorneys Association, on the problems various states’ prosecutors are experiencing when trying to prosecute marijuana cases in the wake of hemp legalization.
“We at least have to talk about these things. … We just can’t say ‘thoughts and prayers.’ We’ve had five mass shootings in Texas in the last five years.”
—Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), in a WOAI (San Antonio) news radio interview regarding Patrick’s willingness to consider requiring background checks for private gun sales between strangers.
“I don’t regret it. I just checked Twitter again, and I still can’t use it. … It was good for both of us. I trended [on Twitter]. I increased my name ID. It is what I believe. I don’t regret it at all.”
—State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Houston), when asked if he regretted tweeting “My AR is ready for you” at presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) in response to the latter’s proposal to confiscate certain types of firearms. (The perceived threat resulted in Cain’s Twitter account being suspended.)
“[He] hates trees because one fell on him.”
—Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt (D), on why she thinks the governor encouraged the legislature to override Austin’s local tree ordinance. (She subsequently apologized for her “flippant comment.”)
“We probably do a better job criticizing ourselves in our dissents than anybody else could.”
—U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, on why he doesn’t pay much attention to criticisms of the Court from members of the other branches of the federal government.
“It is fair to say that ending taxpayer-funded lobbying is the foundation’s top goal moving into next session.”
—James Quintero, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Local Governance, in a news story discussing one of his group’s priorities last session as well.