TDCAA Legislative Update: Week 2

The governor and lieutenant governor were sworn in on Tuesday, and the related pre-parties and post-parties and inaugural balls (including a performance by George Strait) ensured that no one at the capitol was in much of a condition to do any real work this week. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any news for you! Read on for the details.

Proposed budgets released

The House and Senate both released their initial proposed biennial budgets this week. These baseline budgets are a way for each chamber to signal its priorities heading into the session and they immediately become the starting point for all budget negotiations for the rest of the session.

For the general public, the big news is the various proposals for increased public education funding and property tax relief that you can read about in your local fish wrap. But there are also several items that may be of particular interest to you, which we will break down further as proposed changes shared by both bills, then those that are found only in one version:

Both House and Senate (but amounts may vary): Increased funding for the Border Prosecution Unit, judicial branch CLE education grants, Victim Assistance Grants (through OAG), CPS functions, local mental health outpatient treatment, and indigent defense; less operational funding for TDCJ and TJJD due to declining bed populations.

House only: Increased funding for a 10-percent bump in the judicial benchmark salary (from $140,000 to $154,000), construction projects at San Antonio, Kerrville, and Rusk State Hospitals, prison health care, and as-yet-unnamed school safety programs; still leaves about $3 billion unspent under constitutional spending limits.

Senate only: Increased funding for DPS and OAG to investigate and prosecute human trafficking and anti-gang activities, and for DPS to hire more crime lab analysts; still leaves roughly $7 billion unspent.

Again, these are just some examples of where the budget discussions will begin; nothing is guaranteed except (sometimes dramatic!) changes. The key thing to remember at this stage is that a spending item must be approved by at least one of the two chambers prior to the behind-closed-doors negotiations over the final budget compromise if it is to make it into that final version.

Longevity pay update

One of the major issues for prosecutors this session will be finding a healthier funding vehicle for the assistant prosecutor longevity pay program. For those following the issue, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) has filed SB 353 as a placeholder or “shell” bill for any statutory changes that may need to be made once a solution is identified and agreed upon. (In other words, the language currently in the bill will be changed as it moves forward, so don’t worry about the details right now.) We will continue to provide you updates on this very important topic as they develop. Meanwhile, if you have questions about any of this, contact Rob.

Senate committee assignments

The lite guv released his committee assignments. To see where your favorite senator landed, click here.

We spend most of our time in the Senate dealing with bills in these committees, so read these lists to discover who your new best friends will be for the next five months:

Senate Finance: Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair; Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), vice-chair; Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Royce West (D-Dallas), John Whitmire (D-Houston).

Senate Criminal Justice: John Whitmire (D-Houston), chair; Joan Huffman (R-Houston), vice-chair; Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Borris Miles (D-Houston), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).

Senate State Affairs: Joan Huffman (R-Houston), chair; Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), vice-chair; Brian Birdwell (R- Granbury), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), Bob Hall (R-Canton), Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).

New bills to watch

Here is another entry highlighting some of the recent filings of interest:

  • HB 745 by Rose, amending the duties and powers of peace officers
  • HB 746 by Rose, authorizing needle exchange programs in certain urban counties
  • HB 753 by Wu, reducing POM < 0.35 oz (aka 10g) to a Class C misdemeanor
  • HB 756 by Wu, allowing a defendant to waive jury punishment over the State’s objection
  • HB 758 by Wu, expanding public access to juvenile court proceedings
  • HB 887 by Thompson, limiting an officer’s right to self-defense in officer-involved shootings
  • HB 903 by Lozano, revising elements of the offense of smuggling of persons
  • SB 332 by West, relating to the public release of law enforcement video footage
  • SB 341 by Huffman, prohibiting the appointment of non-prosecutors as attorneys pro tem
  • SB 342 by Huffman, revising the elements of unlawful disclosure of intimate visual material

To read any bill, go to https://capitol.texas.gov/, enter the bill number in the appropriate field, and click “go”—then on the subsequent webpage, select the tab at the top of the page for the information (history, bill text, actions, authors, etc.) you want. And as always, you can contact Shannon or Rob if you are having trouble finding the information you seek.

Roundtable discussion on marijuana

There are numerous proposals this session dealing with the legal status of marijuana. This is not just a state issue, but a national one as well—and that national debate seems to be getting more heated as it wades into discussions of prohibition, public health, racially-disparate impacts, taxation, and corporate greed, among other topics. If you want to read a good debate between experts on various sides of this issue—and yes, there are more than just two sides—check out this recent roundtable discussion hosted by the non-profit criminal justice news outlet the Marshall Project: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/01/14/how-dangerous-is-marijuana-really.

Next week

Senate committees are out, so now everyone is sitting around waiting for House committee assignments to be released. Until that happens, don’t look for much action on anything in the lower chamber. (But remember, that is a feature of the system at this stage of session, not a bug.) Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee will start holding hearings on their budget this Tuesday, and awaaaaaaaaaaaay they go!

Legislative rotation sign-up

Please contact Shannon for details on how to get involved in the legislative process—even if it is only to get an up-close-and-personal view of the sausage-making for the first time. We still have several slots available on a first-come, first-served basis, so check your calendar and find a good time to come to Austin. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease at the Capitol, so don’t be shy!

New CCP Chapters 18A and 18B

As of January 1, 2019, former Code of Criminal Procedure articles 18.20 and 18.21 have been recodified as new CCP Chapters 18A (Detection, Interception, and Use of Wire, Oral, and Electronic Communications) and 18B (Installation and Use of Tracking Equipment; Access to Communications). These non-substantive reorganizations were passed via HB 2931 (2017) and are not intended to make any substantive changes, but it is still important to make sure all your paperwork and practices comply with these newly-organized laws. Visit this page of our website for a PDF version of the new CCP chapters, along with a source and disposition chart for each chapter (which is also included as Appendix A of the new 2018 version of our Warrants Manual).

Quotes of the Month

“With the teamwork we have between the Senate and the House, this is going to be the greatest session ever in the history of Texas.”

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), during his inaugural address after being sworn in this week.

“The Austin lobby, by and large, gives for influence and access, it doesn’t give due to ideological affinities. When it was clear that Dennis Bonnen would become speaker, Dennis Bonnen became one of the three most powerful politicians in Texas and therefore someone that every lobbyist — from the left to the right, from clean energy to oil and coal, from beer distributors to craft breweries — everyone wants to be on his good side.”

Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist, on the news that the new House speaker collected almost $4 million in campaign donations in the four-week period after he announced he had secured the votes necessary to win the speaker’s race.

“The new methods [of making methamphetamine] have really altered the potency, so the meth we’re looking at today is much more potent than it was 10 years ago.”

Jane Maxwell, research professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s social work school, in an article explaining why meth is making a comeback.

“The idea that it’s going to be in this balm or that balm, I don’t know what the scientific basis for that is. … The people who are talking the loudest about CBD don’t have a scientific background. They are marketers and advertisers, and they have done a hell of a job.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), on the recent proliferation of unregulated low-dose CBD-based health products.

“It saves lives. It deters people at all BAC levels from drinking. And it separates drinking from driving.”

Bella Dinh-Zarr, a member of the National Traffic Safety Board, on the benefits of lowering per se blood alcohol content (BAC) standards from 0.08 to 0.05, as Utah recently did.

“Maybe I can have more success at the legislative level to get somebody to understand that there are some real true problems [with the death penalty].”

Former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, who recently accepted a job as public policy director for the Texas Defender Service.