Only 31 days remain in this regular session, which means some bills are getting close to final passage while others are having dirt thrown over them. This last month will be a stressful one for anybody who gets emotionally invested in a particular piece of legislation.
The deadline for a House bill (other than a local bill) to be voted from the House on second reading is midnight on Thursday, May 13. But to be heard Thursday, a House bill must be on the final House calendar notice posted by 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 11, so that’s your real deadline. Keep that in mind when placing your wagers.
Meanwhile, the Senate is known for playing fast and loose with its own rules, so Senate bills still have plenty of time to get moving.
“Smarter Justice, Safer Texas”, Part II
For the second week in a row, the House approved multiple criminal justice reform measures that are part of the House leadership’s “Smarter Justice, Safer Texas” platform, including:
- HB 385 by Pacheco (early termination from probation)
- HB 830 by S. Thompson (ban on Class C arrests)
- HB 859 by Collier (expunction of statutorily-decriminalized offenses)
- HB 1717 by S. Thompson (applying Michael Morton Act retroactively)
- HB 3712 by E. Thompson (peace officer training on public interactions)
Other criminal justice reform-related House bills that passed this week were:
- HB 441 by Zweiner (Class C POM < 1 oz, related changes)
- HB 829 by S. Thompson (progressive disciplinary matrix for peace officers)
- HB 834 by S. Thompson (corroboration of undercover narcotics officers)
- HB 842 by Moody (disclosure of criminal history records in criminal discovery)
- HB 956 by Dutton (long knives allowed in bars, churches, and amusement parks)
- HB 1535 by Klick (expansion of low-THC compassionate use program)
- HB 1757 by Krause (protection of civilians’ recordings of peace officers)
- HB 2539 by Moody (misdemeanor penalties for THC edibles and concentrates)
- HB 3233 by Moody (needle exchange program in metro counties)
- HB 3315 by Crockett (mandatory pretrial diversion for most 17yo offenders)
Now these bills head to the Senate, where the leadership in the upper chamber has taken a notably less eager approach to these issues so far.
The wild perambulations of HB 1927 by Schaefer/Schwertner continue. Upon receipt from the House, Senate leadership referred the bill to a committee only to find that it lacked the votes for approval there. The bill was then re-routed to a new Senate committee created for the specific purpose of passing the bill. (As we said above, the Senate is not much of a stickler for abiding by its own rules.) That Select Committee on Constitutional Issues heard a day’s worth of testimony yesterday before approving HB 1927 on a 5–2, party-line vote.
The bill will be eligible for consideration on the Senate floor as soon as next week, where it will need 18 votes to be taken up for debate. Coincidentally, there are 18 Republican senators—but we have it on good authority that several of them are not keen on the bill. Whether they can withstand the political pressure about to come their way from their right flank remains to be seen.
The Senate refused to concur in the House changes to SB 1 by Nelson/Bonnen, so now that budget bill goes to conference. The Senate conferees are Sens. Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair; Huffman (R-Houston), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Nichols (R-Jacksonville), and Taylor (R-Friendswood). The House conferees are Reps. Bonnen (R-Friendswood), chair; Capriglione (R-Southlake), M. Gonzalez (D-Clint), Walle (D-Houston), and Wilson (R-Marble Falls). Those 10 members will now disappear behind closed doors for the next three or four weeks to hash out differences between their two chambers’ versions of the budget, and when white smoke finally appears from the capitol chimney, we will have a new state budget for FY 2022–23.
American Rescue Plan (ARP)
For those of you wondering when the Feds will turn on the spigot and start drowning your counties in pandemic-promised funds, please note that counties must have a valid Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and an active registration with the System for Award Management (SAM) database to receive payment. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has put together an overview covering what you need to know about SAM and getting a DUNS number if your county doesn’t have one already. Registration can take several weeks, so time is of the essence. ARP funds are slated to be direct-deposited to county accounts by mid-May and must be spent by December 31, 2024.
For more on this topic, check out TAC’s ARP webpage that is updated as they receive new information.
Here are some quick updates on issues we have been following this session (in no particular order):
ERS changes: The Senate passed SB 321 by Huffman (R-Houston), which ends new enrollments in current ERS defined-benefits plans as of August 31, 2022, and launches “cash balance” plans in its place for all future ERS participants. The bill—which we described in some detail in last Friday’s update—now heads to the House. Meanwhile, the lower chamber passed HB 3397 by Murphy (R-Houston) over to the Senate; unlike the Senate bill, the House proposal is to simply authorize the ERS Board of Trustees to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the current defined benefit system. Which version—if any—prevails this session remains to be seen.
Remote court proceedings: The House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee voted out a substitute version of HB 3611 by Leach (R-Plano) that requires the parties’ consent before any contested or evidentiary criminal proceeding can be done remotely. Meanwhile, the Senate companion—SB 690 by Zaffirini—remains stuck in Senate State Affairs.
Marijuana: The House passed HB 441 by Zweiner (D-Driftwood) (POM < 1 oz. = Class C), HB 1535 by Klick (R-Fort Worth) (medical marijuana expansion), and HB 2593 by Moody (D-El Paso) (THC edibles), but now they must run the same gauntlet in the Senate, where the lieutenant governor has been much less amenable to cannabis-related bills.
Bail bonds: The major bail reform bills are in a holding pattern until the Senate bill can catch up to the House’s version and be considered on the House floor, but meanwhile, HB 2448 by Canales (D-Edinburg) passed the House earlier this week. This bill would allow sureties to get off bonds if the offender is detained for immigration purposes—something that several prosecutors have expressed concerns about due to the potential for abuse. That bill now heads to the Senate.
Policing reforms: The House passed HB 829 by S. Thompson (progressive disciplinary matrix for peace officers), HB 830 by S. Thompson (ban on Class C arrests), and HB 834 by S. Thompson (corroboration of undercover narcotics officers), which are all stand-alone versions of parts of the George Floyd Act (HB 88/SB 161). The Senate passed SB 69 by Miles (D-Houston) to limit officers’ use of chokeholds, another stand-alone component of the George Floyd Act.
Prosecutorial discretion: House Bill 1925 by Capriglione (R-Southlake)—which would impose a statewide camping ban in public places and withhold certain state funds from prosecutors or law enforcement agencies who failed to enforce it—was tripped up by a point of order on the House floor and had to be sent back to committee to fix some errors; expect to see it back on the House calendar by next week. Meanwhile, HB 2622 by Holland (R-Rockwall) and SB 513 by Hall (R-Edgewood)—the so-called “Texas Firearms Protection Act” bills that bar local prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other officials from enforcing or assisting anyone else enforcing federal firearms laws—passed out of their respective chambers this week. The remedy for a violation is either a loss of state funds (under the House version) or a Class B misdemeanor (in the Senate version). Each bill must now be considered by the other chamber.
House and Senate floor calendars for early next week have not been finalized yet, so we will issue a supplement this weekend with more details when that becomes public.
Calendars Committee bills
We are currently tracking 124 bills in the House Calendars Committee that are eligible for consideration by the full House. Bills sent to the Calendars Committee this week include:
- HB 347 by Geren (new “lie to try” gun crime)
- HB 368 by Sherman (alias address for prosecutor driver’s licenses)
- HB 1178 by Crockett (repeals offense of possession of drug paraphernalia)
- HB1340 by Leach (law of parties limitation in death penalty cases)
- HB 1838 by M. Gonzalez (criminal street gang database limits)
- HB 2290 by S. Thompson (expanding defense of duress)
- HB 2505 by Smith (boating while intoxicated with child passenger)
- HB 2942 by Bernal (DTPA price gouging actions by local prosecutors)
- HB 2987 by Julie Johnson (indecent assault enhancement)
- HB 3016 by Moody (ban on suspension of criminal laws during disaster)
- HB 3334 by Turner (criminal justice sentencing database reporting duties)
- HB 4174 by Middleton (evidence disclosure to deceased victim’s family)
To read the text or status of these or any other bill, visit the state legislature’s website and enter that HB or SB number in the appropriate search box. Remember, the Calendars Committee does not take additional testimony on bills sent to it from other committees; instead, its members take input on bills individually. If you know any members of that committee, don’t be shy about reaching out to them on bills as you see fit.
Monday’s relevant postings are below; we’ll supplement this list over the weekend with more information as it is released. For a full agenda of all the bills to be heard at each meeting listed below, please click the link in the committee’s name below; the text of each individual bill will be accessible on that notice by clicking the bill number.
Monday, May 3
Senate Jurisprudence – 9:00 a.m., Capitol Extension Hearing Room E1.028
SB 1741 by Birdwell enhancing various punishments relating to riots
House Criminal Jurisprudence – 1:00 p.m. or upon adj., Room E2.010
HB 2162 by Raymond creating a conviction integrity unit within the office of the attorney general
HB 3392 and HJR 135 by Moody authorizing a court to grant a commutation of punishment to certain individuals serving a term of imprisonment
HB 3586 by Sherman creating the Texas Sentencing Commission and collecting related data
SB 568 by Huffman relating to the criminal offense of failure to report certain sexual offenses committed against a child
SB 768 by Huffman increasing criminal penalties for manufacture or delivery of fentanyl
SB 1047 by Seliger relating to the execution of certain DWI blood search warrants
SB 1354 by Miles relating to the prosecution of the offense of injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual by omission
Here are some articles we read this week that you might find interesting:
- “One simple trick works to help reduce violence in high-crime areas, studies show. So Dallas is trying it” (Dallas Morning News)
- “Allegation of sexual misconduct by lobbyist leads to another round of calls for reform in Texas Capitol” (The Texas Tribune)
- “Sunset bill giving TCOLE more power to police Texas police likely dead until 2023” (KXAN News)
- “‘Interaction is not happening’: Groups say access to Texas lawmakers more difficult during COVID-19” (Dallas Morning News)
Thanks to Comal County CDA Jennifer Tharp, Erath County DA Alan Nash, and the assistant prosecutors who came to Austin this week to support or oppose various pieces of legislation. If you want to see how the sausage is made, contact Shannon for details on how to get involved in Austin. There are only more weeks of committee hearings, and then it’s all over but the crying.
Quotes of the Week
“I am disgusted that this sort of predatory behavior is still taking place in and around our Capitol.”
—House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), in a rare floor speech Monday in response to allegations that a lobbyist sexually assaulted a legislative staffer earlier this session. (However, DPS and the Travis County DA announced yesterday that no crime had been committed, leading to rampant rumors under the pink dome about what really happened.)
“There are not the votes in the Senate to pass a bill named after George Floyd. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality.”
—State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), author of the Senate version of the George Floyd Act, noting that some in law enforcement object to any bill being named for someone with Mr. Floyd’s particular criminal record.
“As long as the Legislature continues to make positive steps forward and as long as we continue to prove that those steps were the right steps to make, then we’ll eventually get to the point where it’s a full medical market with no limitation on the THC, and the doctors would have the ability to treat anyone with any condition just based on their experience, knowledge, and know-how.”
—Morris Denton, CEO of Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, on the House’s passage this week of HB 1535 by Klick (R-Fort Worth), which would expand who qualifies for the state’s low-THC compassionate use program and re-define “low-THC” from 0.5% to 5.0% THC content.
“I support it, and I believe it should reach my desk, and we should have ‘constitutional carry’ in Texas.”
—Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Houston), in a radio interview this week.
“This session is a weird one. Things that would’ve never seen the light of day any other session are just out there traipsing around in the sunlight right now.”
—Anonymous observation about the 87th Regular Session.