TDCAA Legislative Update: Week 10, Part I

March 14, 2019

Due to a committee schedule that does not lend itself to Friday afternoon updates for those wishing to participate in committee hearings on Mondays (too late) and Thursdays (too soon), we will start sending these missives as events require in order to provide you with as much notice as possible of important events at the Capitol. (And there are some hot-button issues coming up next week!)

Judicial branch pay raise: Action item

The House version of the chief justice’s judicial pay raise bill, HB 2384 by Chairman Leach (R-Plano), will be heard in his Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, March 18th. (See below for more details; click this link for a  list of committee members.) This may be your only opportunity to testify in a public hearing on a potential pay raise for prosecutors, so read on if this is an issue you care about.

The situation on the ground that we have described in previous updates has changed in two ways:

  1. The House General Appropriations Act, HB 1, is nearing completion in the House Appropriations Committee with an across-the-board pay raise intact. Specifically, it contains a judicial and prosecutor pay raise of 10 percent, with another five percent left pending for future discussion. No other bill is required to pass to put that change take effect (as long as it stays in HB 1), which is why it is the simplest, easiest, and fairest option in our opinion. House Bill 1 will be debated on the House floor in two weeks.
  2. The other option is the chief’s two-step plan requiring a change to HB 1 and the passage of the judges’ separate bill. Chairman Leach has offered to include prosecutors in his version of the bill, but only if prosecutors want to be included. We presume those changes would look similar to the judges’ proposed longevity-style pattern: Newly-elected felony prosecutors would start at a base salary of $140,000 and increase by ten percent every four years for 12 years ($154,000, then $168,000, then $182,000) effective September 1, 2019 (and applied retroactively). There also might be some increase of the county attorney supplement as well, but we have not seen any language for any of that yet. And this plan also requires the House to de-fund the across-the-board raise and replace it with this targeted, tenure-based system, plus find an additional $8–10 million to include prosecutors. That may be more lucrative for some of you if all of that can be pulled off, but (in our opinion) it is also riskier.

All that being said, the situation remains unchanged in one very important way: Senator Huffman (R-Houston) has not changed her position on refusing to allow prosecutors into her Senate version of the chief justice’s bill. This is why TDCAA’s Legislative Committee originally recommended that prosecutors support the across-the-board raises contained in HB 1 as the most viable path to getting a raise this session. As long as the Senate author—and likely member of the state budget conference committee that ultimately decides whether or how to pay for such changes—continues to limit the bill to only long-tenured judges, all bets are off in the Senate and in any eventual conference committee (which meets behind closed doors and does not permit public input).

That is a short summary of the current situation. Rob or Shannon can provide more information as needed, but TDCAA is not in a position to speak for you on your pay—only you can do that. Monday may be your “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment, so Rob will be at the TDCAA offices at 6:00 p.m. Sunday to meet with anyone interested in coming to Austin to testify for or against HB 2384 (more committee details are below). If you have thoughts or questions before then, contact Rob

Longevity pay status

On a much less dramatic note, the Senate followed Sen. Huffman’s lead and gave its blessing to using a one-time infusion of general revenue funds to cover the shortfall in assistant prosecutor longevity pay for this current fiscal year. That proposal—as part of SB 500 by Nelson (R-Flower Mound)—now goes to the House for final approval. That supplemental appropriation bill will be reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, and all signs look good for this short-term fix for the longevity pay revenue gap to be approved. Once that is done, attention can shift to ensuring a similar patch for the upcoming biennium or—even better—a new, continuing revenue source that avoids the need for repeated fixes like this.

Upcoming committee hearings

Here are summaries of the relevant committee notices posted for next week (so far). There are plenty of interesting topics set for Monday, so feel free to weigh in on multiple topics if you come to Austin. Click on the committee name for a full agenda and more details on each bill; Shannon can give you the inside scoop on some of them as well.

Monday, March 18

House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence – 10:00 a.m., Room E2.026 (partial list)

  • HB 2384 by Leach, the chief justice’s judge-only (as of now) pay raise plan
  • HB 598 by Price funding the training of certain part-time magistrates and associate judges
  • HB 2955 by Price moving oversight of specialty courts to the Office of Court Administration
  • HB 881 by C. Bell authorizing the parents of a deceased adult to view the body before autopsy
  • HB 2737 by Wu providing judicial guidance regarding certain CPS and juvenile cases
  • HB 2068 by Nevarez exempting certain tribal government/council members from jury service
  • HB 900 by Israel creating a civil infraction for smoking tobacco in a vehicle with a child inside
  • HB 439 by Shaheen limiting civil lawsuits against persons reporting suspicious behavior
  • HB 883 by Thierry regulating internet use to obtain certain ID information of an elderly person

House Criminal Jurisprudence – 1:30 p.m., Room E2.012 (Link to committee membership list)

  • HB 85 by M. Gonzalez applying the “Romeo & Juliet” defense to alleged same-sex conduct
  • HB 352 by Blanco regulating law enforcement access to cell site information and the use of cell site simulators
  • HB 353 by Blanco regulating law enforcement access to cell site information
  • HB 442 by Morgan increasing the statute of limitations for abandoning/endangering a child
  • HB 549 by Canales granting criminal parties an objection to the appointment of a visiting judge
  • HB 601 by Price imposing reporting requirements related to defendants with intellectual disability
  • HB 940 by Davis regulating the unlawful restraint of a dog
  • HB 1030 by Moody changing the vote requirement for special issues in capital cases
  • HB 1139 by S. Thompson creating a pre-trial determination of intellectual disability in capital cases
  • HB 1936 by Rose creating a pre-trial determination of “serious mental illness” in capital cases
  • HB 1223 by VanDeaver encouraging prosecutions for interference with child custody
  • HB 1279 by Allen correcting statutory jury instructions regarding parole eligibility
  • HB 1357 by Wu creating an offense for failure to report sex crimes or impair their investigation
  • HB 1499 by Metcalf directing unclaimed property to certain crime victims
  • HB 1996 by Leman requiring documents of certain deportation admonishments

If you want to learn more about a bill or find out how to get involved for or against it, contact Shannon for details.

Future updates

We’ll send out a more standard recap of this week’s events tomorrow or Monday. Please bear with us as we work out a more useful schedule for these updates. All of this is part of our efforts to go the extra mile to get you the information you need to be effective advocates at the capitol for yourselves, your offices, and your communities.