TDCAA Legislative Update: Week 11, Part I

Pay raise curve ball

So much for that plan.

This past weekend, we learned that the work some of you had been doing to advocate for across-the-board judicial pay raises had fallen on deaf ears among those making the initial decisions on this matter. And sure enough, on Monday morning the House budget writers effectively removed from HB 1 the across-the-board 10-percent pay raise for judicial branch officers that had been in their baseline budget since last fall, and they replaced it with a contingency rider funding the chief justice’s judicial pay raise plan. That funding is “contingent” because it depends upon the ultimate passage of whatever is in HB 2384 by Leach (R-Plano) or its Senate companion, SB 387 by Huffman (R-Houston). As you know by now, those introduced bills include only judges, but at the hearing on his House bill yesterday, Chairman Leach laid out a committee substitute that includes elected prosecutors and county court-at-law judges in the bill. With those provisions added and with the demise of the HB 1 across-the-board pay raise, several prosecutors testified in favor of the committee substitute version of the bill (which we will refer to as CSHB 2384 to distinguish it from the filed bill that excluded prosecutors). That appears to be the only path for elected prosecutors to receive their first pay raise in 6 years, so like it or not, that’s your new plan.

Here is the most immediate problem with this new proposal: The fiscal note for the original version of HB 2384 was released before yesterday’s hearing, and even without the inclusion of prosecutors or county court-at-law judges, it weighed in at a hefty $47 million dollars for the biennium. Remember, the across-the-board 10 percent pay raise that used to be in HB 1 cost only about $30 million.

As we have mentioned before, the risk to prosecutors with this plan is that the Senate has yet to agree to add prosecutors, and it takes two to tango in the legislature. In other words, if CSHB 2384 gets to the Senate, that chamber can strip you back out and send a prosecutor-less bill back to the House without raises for you, at which point things will get very uncomfortable for everyone. But for now, your best hope for a pay raise is to (1) get in CSHB 2384 and (2) stay in CSHB 2384. On to Plan B!

There’s a lot more to this going on behind the scenes that we are not at liberty to put in writing, but if you have further questions, feel free to contact Rob

And now for something completely different

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Hillman v. Nueces County, an employment law case in which the court unanimously agreed that sovereign immunity protected the county against a lawsuit from a former assistant district attorney who was allegedly fired for disclosing alleged Brady information to the defense after being ordered not to disclose the information by his superiors. However, the justices clearly were not pleased with the outcome dictated by established law on immunity, and Justice Guzman wrote a separate concurrence suggesting that the Legislature consider waiving that immunity in some form or fashion to provide this kind of plaintiff with a monetary remedy—although she was noticeably vague about what that liability should look like. And that may not be surprising, considering that this case is ultimately one centering on employment law, not criminal discovery.

Despite the civil nature of this opinion (and the court that issued it), and that fact that the original offense in question pre-dated the effective date of the Michael Morton Act, Justice Guzman’s repeated references to that law and the circumstances that led to its passage immediately drew attention in the media, and some policymakers are no doubt already searching through existing bills to find a suitable vehicle for their pet criminal discovery ideas with this new opinions as the poster child (even if it bears little relation to their actual goal). Therefore, it is very important for you to read these two short opinions, digest them, and then let your legislators know what you think is an appropriate response. We don’t claim to be employment law experts, but we are fortunate to know several—yes, you know who you are—so if you want to be part of any potential solution at this stage of the session, contact Shannon ASAP. 

That’s enough drama for one update

We’ll have more updates for you later this week as events warrant. Until then, remember: If you aren’t at the table during a legislative session, it means you are on the menu.