TDCAA Legislative Update: Week 18, Part III

May 10, 2019

Madame Guillotine dropped with a fury last night as the primary House bill deadline of the session killed several thousand bills. Of the 7,000-plus bills and resolutions filed this session, about 2,000 are still “alive” with 17 days remaining in the regular session. And of the 1,600-or-so bills we have been tracking this session, about 400 are still alive in bill form (not counting dead bill language that may be resurrected as an amendment to a live bill).

Judicial branch pays raises

House Bill 2384 by Leach/Huffman, the tiered pay raise bill that currently includes district and county attorneys, was heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee this week and left pending. We told you earlier in the week what the new committee substitute includes and what it does not include. Overall, it will result in a raise for most elected felony prosecutors and county attorneys, but your mileage may vary. Now the bill awaits a vote in Senate State Affairs and potential consideration by the full Senate. One further caveat, though: Even if this bill passes and is signed by the governor, any raises are still contingent on state budget writers funding it, which is never guaranteed until the HB 1 conference committee report comes out (and that might not be for another two weeks).

We will keep you posted on this topic as events warrant. If you have questions about any of this, contact Rob.

Grand jury bill voted from committee

Earlier today, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted out a committee substitute of SB 1492 by Whitmire (D-Houston), this session’s only remaining grand jury reform bill. (House Bill 2398 by S. Thompson never emerged from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.) The Senate’s new version (PDF text available on our website here) does three things:

  • Grand jury testimony of any fact witness must be recorded, with a “fact witness” defined as someone with personal knowledge of events relevant to an investigation (such as an eyewitness or victim or arresting officer);
  • Bars re-presentment of no-billed cases absent material evidence unknown to the prosecutor at the previous presentment; and
  • Creates a temporary Texas Commission on Grand Juries to meet during the coming interim and explore improvements and alternatives to the current system for formally charging felony cases, such as a direct-file-plus-examining-trial option in lieu of a grand jury.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. It has 12 days to be approved by both chambers, but that is enough time for a bill like this being privately pushed by certain public figures. Therefore, each of you who opposed the original version needs to read the new one and let us know your thoughts—many inquiring minds at the capitol want to know! We have more relevant information and details about this topic for those interested, so consider contacting Rob or Shannon before acting on any of the details described above.

Committee hearings

Hearing notices are being posted and revised with little notice as we near the end of session. Here’s what has been posted so far:

Monday, May 13

Senate State Affairs – 9:00 a.m., Senate Chamber

  • SB 93 by Canales/Hinojosa requiring a magistrate’s name on certain signed orders
  • HB 888 by Landgraf/Perry criminalizing the misrepresentation of a child’s family status at a port of entry
  • HB 1177 by Phelan/Creighton legalizing the unlicensed carrying of a handgun during a disaster
  • HB 2730 by Leach/Hughes limiting the scope of the ant-SLAPP Texas Citizens Participation Act
  • HB 2826 by G. Bonnen/Huffman limiting local gov’t contingent fee legal contracts
  • HB 2955 by Price/Zaffirini shifting oversight of specialty courts to the Office of Court Administration (OCA)

FYI, no elected prosecutors have volunteered for legislative duties next week, so if you have an interest in any “live” bills, you will have to take matters into your own hands. This may be your last chance to push a bill you like or stop a bill you dislike. All the other committees we usually follow will post notice for their hearings later today or early next week, so if you are following a bill that is alive and still needs to be considered in a committee in the other chamber, check with Shannon for posting details.

Floor calendars

Monday’s House floor calendar includes SB 20 by Huffman/S. Thompson, the omnibus human trafficking bill. That bill has been well-vetted, but it’s possible someone could try to amend it with language from SB 1257 (AG prosecution authority), so if you opposed that bill (which is stuck in the Calendars Committee), now might be a good time to alert your House member(s) to watch out for that proposal. Such an amendment would violate House Rule 11, Section 2, for not being germane to the language of SB 20, but germaneness is like traveling in basketball—if no referee (read: House member) calls the foul (read: point of order) as it happens, then the basket still counts.

Across the rotunda, the Senate Intent calendar for Monday includes: HB 892 by Kuempel/Hughes authorizing county regulation of game rooms; HB 2048 by Zerwas/Huffman repealing and replacing the DRP with new fines, etc.; HB 2502 by Moody/Watson imposing jail time as a condition of probation in certain hit-and-run fatalities; HB 2624 by Perez/Zaffirini facilitating certain fraud prosecutions; HB 3106 by Goldman/Huffman requiring certain sex crime investigation information to be entered into a federal database; and HB 3582 by Murr/Menendez authorizing deferred adjudication for certain DWI-1st offenders.

Bills in House Calendars

For those of you working with members of the Calendars Committee, some of the Senate bills pending before it include: SB 29 by Hall/Middleton limiting local government dues to statewide associations and local officials’ activity at the capitol; SB 194 by Perry/Moody creating the offense of indecent assault; SB 891 by Huffman/Leach, the omnibus court/prosecutor office creation bill; SB 1257 by Huffman/Leach granting new prosecution authority to OAG; and SB 1640 by Watson/Phelan to fix the “walking quorum” offense. If you support or oppose any of these bills and have not already weighed in with the Calendars Committee, now is the time to do that; bills not out of the Calendars Committee by Sunday, May 19, are dead.

Looking ahead

Legislators will get this weekend off (Happy Mother’s Day!) before the final dash to the sine die finish line. Next week will see the last round of committee hearings in which hundreds of House bills will be considered by Senate committees and hundreds of Senate bills will be considered by House committees. (More specifics on that below). Both chambers will also hold daily floor calendars and will likely schedule floor debates on Saturday, May 18, in their rush to complete work on various bills before the deadlines that kick in on Tuesday, May 21 (for SBs in the House) and Wednesday, May 22 (for HBs in the Senate). After that, it’s pretty much all over but the crying.

More Quotes of the Week

“Be pro-life from the womb to the tomb.”

State Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), arguing for passage of her HB 1936 which exempts people with serious mental illness from the death penalty. After minimal debate, the bill passed the House on third reading Thursday by a vote of 77-66 and now heads to the Senate.

“I don’t miss 39 little league baseball games [during session] just to pass a study.”

State Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), rejecting a suggestion during debate on his SB 1152 (limiting municipal cable/telecommunications fees) that the Legislature should study the issue during the next interim rather than pass a law now.