Interim Update: October 2016

            Elections have consequences—chief among them heartburn, nausea, manic-depressive symptoms, and marital tension. (And that’s just for those who work for elected officials). For all of you on the ballot next month, we remind you that you chose to do this—so good luck with that!

Election results

            We generally try to gather all prosecutor election results and share them with you a day or two after the election, but to do that, we need your help! Please consider calling or emailing Rob with your local election results, especially if you are in a jurisdiction that is served by a media outlet that still delivers news the same way it did back in 1966.

The legislative calendar

            Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, but do you know what follows? Here’s a handy list of important upcoming legislative dates:

            Bills accepted for filing:                     Monday, November 14, 2016
            First day of the 85th Session:              Tuesday, January 10, 2017
            Bill filing deadline:                            Friday, March 10, 2017
            Adjournment sine die:                        Monday, May 29, 2017
 

Yes, that’s correct—bills can be filed starting the Monday after the election! Several hundred bills will be filed on that day alone, followed by a slow trickle of new legislation over the holidays and into the new year. As always, we will keep an eye on what is filed and provide you with an easy way to follow some of the most important bills through three bill tracking reports (Penal Code, CCP, and other “Bills to Watch”) available at http://www.tdcaa.com/legislative/index.asp. Nothing can happen with any of those pre-filed bills until early February, so if you see something you love/hate, don’t get too excited just yet, but feel free to contact Shannon if you have questions about any pre-filed bills.

Judicial Council weighs in on pre-trial release, other issues

            Last month we told you about the Texas Judicial Council’s proposed 8-point plan to revise pre-trial release procedures in Texas. That plan was formally approved earlier today, but the Council has still not put forth actual language to accomplish those recommended goals. Stay tuned for more on that next month (hopefully). Meanwhile, the Council also made numerous other recommendations for legislative change on topics as varied as judicial salaries, courthouse security, guardianships, fine/fee/court cost collections, and more. A full list of all those recommendations is available here.

Exoneration Commission recommendations

            The Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission—which is kind of an ad hoc subsidiary of the Judicial Council for this interim—met yesterday to finalize its proposed recommendations to the legislature next session. Those recommendations still require one final vote, but they are likely to include the following:

1)     ELECTRONIC RECORDING OF INTERROGATIONS

  • Require audio or audio-visual recording of suspect interrogations in all felony cases, for both custodial and non-custodial interviews, unless good cause for not recording exists

2)     REGULATION OF JAILHOUSE SNITCHES

  • Require each prosecutor office to adopt a formal written policy for tracking the use of jailhouse informants
  • Make admissible jailhouse informants’ complete criminal history, including information on arrests or other incidents not currently admissible under the Rules of Evidence

3)     EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATIONS

  • Require all law enforcement agencies to adopt the Model Policy developed by LEMIT
  • Require training for law enforcement officers on eyewitness identification procedures
  • Make admissible all prior attempted identifications of the suspect by the witness when an in-court identification is made

4)     FORENSIC SCIENCE

  • Encourage the Texas Forensic Science Commission to study crime scene investigations
  • Encourage the Texas Forensic Science Commission to study presumptive drug field tests
  • Require crime labs to complete testing in all drug cases regardless of the results of a field test, even if the case has been resolved through a plea bargain

The commission’s final report must be submitted to the legislature by December 1, 2016. The recommendations in that report are likely to be filed in piecemeal fashion by one or more legislators, and then the public at large will get to weigh in on their merits. We will continue to monitor these issues for you during the session, when prosecutors and other law enforcement leaders will finally get to take a more prominent role in a process that to this point has been driven largely by the innocence project community.

Lobby wish lists

            The final two months of this year will see a flurry of policy recommendations put forth by an alphabet soup of state agencies and lobby groups, all directed to the legislators coming to Austin in January. In addition to the recommendations listed above, we want to highlight for you some of the ideas being put forth by other groups, which include the following:

TAASA (Texas Association Against Sexual Assault)

  • Outlaw “groping” via a new Indecent Assault offense
  • Outlaw sexual assault involving non-physical coercion
  • Limit the ability of respondents to challenge protective orders

TPPF / ROC (Texas Public Policy Foundation/Right on Crime)

  • Reform grand jury procedures, including allowing defense counsel in the grand jury, requiring all grand jury testimony be transcribed/recorded and provided to defendants upon indictment, and requiring prosecutors to disclose all exculpatory information to a grand jury during presentment of a case
  • Make it easier for defendants to get charges dismissed at pre-trial
  • Eliminate civil asset forfeiture and require a criminal conviction for forfeiture; or in the alternative, require the state to disprove “innocent owner” status, divert forfeited assets to the governing bodies instead of prosecutors or law enforcement agencies. and increase reporting of individual forfeiture proceedings
  • Mandatory probation for some state jail felony and third-degree felony drug possession offenses
  • Limit the time certain non-violent offenders can serve upon revocation for technical violations
  • Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-old misdemeanor offenders; or in the alternative, authorize adult court judges to transfer certain 17-year-old offenders to juvenile court on a case-by-case basis
  • Expand orders of non-disclosure to include more convictions that currently authorized

TSOCC (Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition [member organizations listed here])

  • Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds
  • Abolish DPS’s Driver Responsibility Program
  • Reduce punishment levels for low-level drug offenders
  • Mandate probation for more non-violent offenses
  • Limit the ability to revoke probationers and parolees

Many other criminal justice policy groups have still not released their legislative agendas but will be doing so shortly, so look for sequels to this entry in our final two interim updates of the year.

Interim hearing recap

            No real fireworks from October to report. (That’s what happens when everybody is on the campaign trail.)

Upcoming hearings

            With the election almost upon us, the only relevant interim committee hearing posted for November is:

House Committee on County Affairs

Wednesday, November 16, at 10:00 a.m., State Capitol Extension, Room E2.016

Topics: CPS reform; local criminal justice reforms

If you have questions about this hearing, call or email Shannon for more information.

Session volunteers

            We are seeking volunteers to come to Austin during the weeks beginning February 6th and ending the week of May 8th. If any of the issues raised in this month’s brief summary of potential legislation has grabbed your attention—or if you have an interest in something not listed here—please call or email Shannon to learn more about our legislative rotation during the next session. It may not be pretty, but it’s always fun!

Quotes of the month

“Texas Democrats have long sought salvation from an electoral drought, looking for champions who can fight back the Republicans who win all of the time. Maybe they just need the right Republican. They’re hoping Donald Trump is their guy.”
            —Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune, describing the political landscape in Texas three weeks before the election, in which the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee is polling within the margin of error for the first time in at least four decades.

 

“But even if Trump used the ‘p’ word every day for a month, he’d still win Texas.”
            —Bill Miller, Austin lobbyist and political guru, after a recording of the GOP nominee was released in which he bragged about groping a particular area of women’s anatomy.

 

“We have to be very careful as a commissioners court not to be seen to, or even attempting to, place our thumb on the scales of justice in this case.”
            —Collin County Judge Keith Self, in response to repeated attempts from supporters of AG Ken Paxton to de-fund the criminal prosecution currently pending against Paxton.

 

“Any resources spent on this case are a waste of the government's time and a drain of taxpayer money.”
            —State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), in a press statement released after an open records request from the Dallas Morning News revealed a string of text messages between Collin County legislators discussing whether and how to convince the county judge to end payments to the special prosecutor in Paxton’s case.

 

“You can beat on me all day, I’m a tough guy, beat on me, I don’t care. But I’m telling you right now, we need help, and it’s in a monetary way.”
            —DFPS Commissioner (and former Texas Ranger) Hank Whitman, testifying during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on CPS reforms. Whitman’s latest budget proposal includes requests for caseworker salary increases and the hiring of additional caseworkers and investigators.

 

###