Aaaaand down the stretch they come! A mere 13 days remain in this regular session, which means we’ll be on the clock around the clock from now through Memorial Day, when the 86th Legislature will adjourn sine die (“without day,” meaning a final adjournment). And unlike this year’s Kentucky Derby, legislators will be obstructing the heck out of each other with impunity as they approach the finish line. With that in mind, some bills we have been watching all session are making their final push for passage—read on for details.
After being held in the Calendars Committee for almost two weeks, SB 1257 by Huffman/Leach will come before the full House tomorrow (Wednesday). The bill itself—which has faced opposition from a bipartisan group of elected prosecutors—has been placed on the calendar for a floor vote. In addition, the language of the bill may be offered as an amendment to SB 20 by Huffman/S. Thompson, this session’s omnibus human trafficking bill. (We told you in our most recent update that the sponsor of SB 1257 might add that language to SB 20 by amendment, and that prediction turned out to be correct, but debate on SB 20 was postponed to Wednesday.) If you object to SB 1257’s language and want to rally your state reps to your side, you’ll have to call them ASAP—and remember to note both ways in which the topic may come before them tomorrow.
Grand jury reform
Those of you who recall last session’s battle of “grand jury reform” might be feeling a bit of déjà vu right now. In 2017, a slimmed-down version of grand jury revisions made it out of the Senate during the penultimate week of that session and went to the House, where that bill made it out of committee but died before it could be calendared.
Well, guess what? As we enter the penultimate week of this session, a committee substitute version of this session’s “grand jury reform”— SB 1492 by Whitmire (D-Houston)—could be debated on the Senate floor as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday), and if it passes it will be sent to the House for quick consideration. For details of this session’s bill—which would require the recording of certain witnesses, bar certain re-presentments, and create a new commission to recommend future changes—please re-read the description in our more recent update and let us know what you think. Keep in mind as well that the make-up in the House is different from last session, so as they say on Wall Street, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” For more information on this topic, contact Rob or Shannon.
Assistant prosecutor longevity supplements
On Monday, the HB 1 (state budget) conference committee announced decisions on several pending budget items for the upcoming 2020–21 biennium, including assistant prosecutor longevity pay. The good news is that the conference committee accepted the House’s recommendation to fully fund the supplement with additional general revenue through the next biennium. That still leaves work to do over the interim to identify a more stable stream of future funding for the supplement, but it is gratifying to know that legislators didn’t leave assistant prosecutors in the lurch. Particular thanks go to Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Representative Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), the conference committee members who made sure this got done.
Updates on other major issues
Here’s a rundown of where some other issues that we’ve been following this session currently stand (listed alphabetically):
Bail bond reform: HB 2020 by Kacal (R-College Station) will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee tomorrow (Wednesday).
Death penalty: HB 1139 by S. Thompson (D-Houston) to require pre-trial determination of intellectual disability in death penalty cases is pending in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. HB 1936 by Rose (D-Dallas) to exclude the serious mentally ill from the death penalty was received in the Senate but has not yet been referred to the Criminal Justice Committee.
Deferred adjudication for certain DWIs: HB 3582 by Murr (R-Junction) is on the Senate Local and Uncontested Calendar tomorrow. Should it pass, it must return to the House for that body to concur with the changes made in the Senate.
Driver Responsibility Program: HB 2048 by Zerwas (R-Richmond), the repeal-and-replace bill that changes DWI surcharges into state fines, is eligible for Senate floor debate today. If it passes without further changes, it will be sent to the governor for his approval.
Judicial branch pay raises: House Bill 2384 by Leach/Huffman, the tiered pay raise bill that includes district and county attorneys, is still pending in the Senate State Affairs Committee. We are still tracking down the official details, but we believe the HB 1 conference committee has set aside money for a raise if HB 2384 passes; if not, then there will be no raise. We will pass along confirmation of that when we see it on paper.
Limits on contingent fee legal contracts: HB 2826 by G. Bonnen (R-Friendswood) was voted from the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday and will be eligible for consideration by the full Senate later this week. A similar Senate bill, SB 970 by Creighton (R-Conroe), passed the Senate last week and has been referred to the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.
Limits on legislative input: SB 29 by Hall (R-Edgewood) remains stuck in the House Calendars Committee.
Marijuana/hemp/CBD/kitchen sink: HB 63 by Moody (D-El Paso), the bill to change low-level marijuana possession to a civil infraction, and HB 1365 by Lucio III (D-Brownsville), a broad medical marijuana bill, have been received but not referred to committees in the Senate, which is the Lite Guv’s way of saying “thanks but no thanks.” However, HB 3703 by Klick (R-Fort Worth), which is a less dramatic expansion of Texas’ compassionate use program (“T-CUP”), has been referred to a Senate committee, so look for that bill to move (although its scope might be further narrowed in the upper chamber). Also, a substitute version of HB 1325 by T. King/Perry, which would legalize and regulate hemp—including consumable hemp products like CBD oils and such—is eligible for approval by the full Senate as soon as tomorrow.
This will be the final week for committee hearings. Notices are being posted and revised with little or no warning as we near the end of session. Here’s what has been posted so far, keeping in mind that these postings are almost guaranteed to change on a moment’s notice:
Wednesday, May 15
Senate Criminal Justice – 8:30 a.m., Room 2E.20
- HB 51 by Canales/Zaffirini creating standardized criminal court forms for statewide use
- HB 616 by Neave/Nelson regarding rape kit reimbursements
- HB 667 by K. King/Perry increasing penalties for sexual assaults that involve incest
- HB 902 by Landgraf/Huffman increasing penalties for assault of a pregnant woman
- HB 1343 by Leach/Paxton expanding the offense of improper inmate/victim contact
- HB 1355 by Button/Johnson expanding the jurisdictions in which certain DWI blood warrants may be executed
- HB 1590 by Howard/Watson creating a statewide Office for Sexual Assault Survivor Assistance
- HB 1661 by Herrero/Hinojosa clarifying the scope of and venue for continuous family violence prosecutions
Thursday, May 16
House Corrections Committee – 8:00 a.m., E2.030
- SB 550 by West authorizing non-disclosures for set-aside probations
- SB 1147 by Buckingham authorizing medication-assisted treatment for DWI probationers
- SB 1217 by Alvarado barring the consideration of dismissed charges in occupational licensing
Bills set for floor debate this week in the House include (in order of appearance): SB 21 by Huffman/Zerwas (raising smoking age to 21), SB 362 by Huffman/Price (mental health/competency diversions), SB 20 by Huffman/S. Thompson (omnibus human trafficking), and SB 1257 by Huffman/Leach (AG prosecutions of human trafficking).
Across the rotunda, the Senate Intent calendar this week includes (in numerical order): SB 1492 by Whitmire (grand jury reforms), HB 504 by Dutton/Miles (employment protections for grand jury service), HB 869 by Cole/Hughes (credit card skimmers at gas pumps), HB 892 by Kuempel/Hughes (county regulation of game rooms), HB 1325 by T. King/Perry (legalizing hemp), and HB 2048 by Zerwas/Huffman (DRP repeal-and-replace).
The second wave of legislative deadlines are nearing, as follows:
Sunday, May 19, 10 p.m.: Last House calendar for SBs must be printed
Tuesday, May 21, midnight: Last day for House to pass SBs on 2nd reading
Wednesday, May 22, midnight: Last day for Senate to pass HBs on 2nd & 3rd reading
Sunday, May 26, midnight: Last day for House & Senate to concur/adopt reports
This means that a Senate bill must make it onto a House calendar and be voted upon no later than next Tuesday at midnight, while a House bill must be voted upon by the Senate on second and third reading by Wednesday at midnight. Those deadlines will kill several hundred more bills.
Here are some stories and articles we don’t have time to summarize, but they might be of interest to some of you:
- Analysis: The Texas Legislature’s unexciting, no drama, very humdrum session (Texas Tribune)
- Sandra Bland-inspired bill to limit arrests for fine-only crimes fails due to House infighting (Texas Tribune)
- Texas cities’ legislative efforts have struggled this session (Texas Tribune)
- What Texas lawmakers may sacrifice to get judges a pay raise (Dallas Morning News)
- Meet the staffers who keep Texas lawmakers in check under the dome (Texas Tribune video)
Quotes of the Week
“Legislators don’t want to give themselves a raise.”State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), explaining the origin of the tiered structure of the judicial branch pay raise in HB 2384 by Leach/Huffman.
“I had never been more discouraged in our leadership. How did settling personal scores become more important than policy?”George Fuller, mayor of McKinney, giving his explanation for why local government groups like the Texas Municipal League are struggling to be heard this session.
“No. Funny to Jonathan Stickland, not funny to me.”State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), when asked if she thought it was funny how State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) over-dramatically killed her bill on the House’s Local and Consent Calendar that would have regulated certain pecan buyers.