Legislative Update: Stoppage Time Edition

            Soccer matches are composed of two 45-minutes halves with constantly running clocks, so to account for certain periods of forced inaction, referees add “injury time” or “stoppage time” to the end of each half. That’s kind of where we are now. 

Special session?

            The Legislature adjourned sine die on Monday and went home without finishing at least one important sunset item. The final 24 hours of the session saw a short filibuster in the Senate, a protest against the sanctuary cities bill in the House gallery, and a scuffle on the House floor that may have involved one member threatening to kill another. Good times.

            As for details on a special session … who knows? We were skeptical there would need to be a special session, but we failed to anticipate that some people in the Capitol would actively seek to force that issue. As a result, the dysfunction between the House and Senate got so bad at the end of the session that the Senate refused to pass a sunset bill for the Texas Medical Board and artificially created a need for a special session. So, here we are. The questions of when a special session will be announced, when it will commence, and what it will be about can only be answered by the governor.

            As for what can happen during a special session, the safe answer is: Anything goes. Special sessions are initiated by the governor for those issues that he designates “in the call” for that session, but contrary to what you may have been led to believe, other legislation unrelated to those topics can still be filed, considered, and passed by the Legislature during a 30-day special session if it so wishes. (It is easier to kill bills not “in the call,” but if no legislator raises an objection on the floor, anything can pass.) A governor can also call a session on one issue and then add others to the mix as they go. We know the sunset issue will be on the governor’s call, but that’s an issue that can be fixed in as little as two or three days if the Legislature wants to do so. As for the other hot-button topics of local property tax reform and bathrooms (or any number of other issues), that’s anyone’s guess. Regardless, a special session means that prosecutors may once again have to play defense against many of the same issues that so recently died in the regular session.

Looking ahead

            We are now in what is known as “the veto period,” the 20-day span of time (from adjournment until Sunday, June 18) during which the governor can sign or veto legislation. After that, any bill not signed or vetoed will become law without his signature. Most governors take their full allotment of time to ponder their ultimate decisions on questionable bills, so prepare to see lots of “Father’s Day Massacre” ledes in the press when the list of vetoes is released on that final weekend of the veto period. We don’t expect a special session to be called right away because a Legislature can override any veto returned while it is in session (including a special session); therefore, look for any special session to be called no sooner than July.

How a bill does not become a law

            That old Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock PSA sort of glosses over the final step of the legislative process, but now that legislators have (temporarily) gone home, the governor takes center stage. His staff must review every bill that has been passed and make a recommendation to him to sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. They will take input from interested parties on that decision, so if you want the governor to sign or veto a bill, you can send a brief request to that effect by the following means:

 

Mail:   The Honorable Greg Abbott

            Office of the Governor

            P.O. Box 12428

            Austin, TX 78711

Fax:     512-463-1849

Email: Send to Shannon (who will forward it to the appropriate staffer)

 

            The proper form of salutation is “Dear Governor Abbott,” and any request relating to the signing or vetoing of a bill should prominently mention the bill number in a separate subject line or in the first line of the request. (This will help ensure the letter reaches the appropriate staff member as quickly as possible.) It is also advisable to mention only one bill per request.

            In your request, you should include a brief (preferably no more than one page) explanation of your reason(s) for seeking the governor’s signature or veto. It is also helpful if you send of copy of your request to Shannon so that we can keep other prosecutors apprised of who is interested in what bills and can facilitate cooperation among our members when requested. Lastly, remember that all of this should be done as soon as possible—the governor has only a little more than two weeks remaining to sign or veto bills.

Veto bait?

            If you have a bill you want signed, you almost certainly already know about it because you’ve been following it throughout the session. However, that’s not always true of bills that you might dislike. Therefore, as a public service to members who have expressed concerns to us about certain bills that were ultimately passed by this legislature, here is a list of bills (in numerical order) that might cause you some heartburn if they become law (with a few bills [paired] because they might conflict with each other in certain areas):

 

HB 34 by Smithee/Perry (jailhouse informant regulations, eyewitness identification changes, recording of certain custodial interrogations)

HB 104 by White/Nichols (prosecutor notification to TDCJ victim services of certain indictments)

[HB 322 by Canales/Hinojosa (veterans court expunctions) vs. HB 3069 by White/Campbell (veterans court nondisclosures)]

[HB 351 by Canales/Hinojosa (limitations upon jail time as sanction for non-payment of fines, fees, etc.; punishment reduction for forgery; pretrial diversion changes) vs. SB 1913 by Zaffirini/Thompson (limitations upon jail time as sanction for non-payment of fines, fees, etc.)]

[HB 681 by Wu/Zaffirini (confidential Class C records) vs. HB 3016 by Thompson/Hughes (retroactive and expanded nondisclosures)]

HB 1935 by Frullo/Whitmire (legalizing many currently illegal knives)

HB 2533 by Geren/Estes (restrictions on local enforcement of certain environmental crimes)

HB 2931 by Moody/Whitmire (non-substantive re-write of CCP Arts. 18.20 and 18.21)

HB 3391 by Geren/Birdwell (specialty courts for peace officers charged with crimes)

HB 3872 by Lucio III/Menendez (post-conviction DNA re-testing)

SB 1253 by West/Canales (recording of certain custodial interrogations)

SB 1849 by Whitmire/Coleman (Sandra Bland Act; diversion, training, profiling, etc.)

 

            Again, to be clear: weare not advocating a veto of any of these bills because that is not our role in this process. Our job is to inform you of what is out there and let you make that decision. And as always, we are here to answer any questions you may have about pending legislation, with the understanding that after June 18, it’s all over but the crying (and the teaching; more on that below). If you have questions about any of this, contact Shannon.

Legislative update CLEs

            Online registration for our popular Legislative Update seminars is NOW OPEN. We are coming to 21 different locations throughout the state this summer to help everyone get up to speed on all the relevant statutory changes made during the session. Don’t miss this opportunity to be among the first people in your courthouse who knows what the new laws are! All attendees qualify for 3 hours or CLE or TCOLE credit and receive a copy of our Legislative Update book. More than 500 people have already registered and some locations fill to capacity quickly, so don’t delay—register today!

Pre-sales begin for 2017 code books

            Pre-sale orders for TDCAA’s 2017 books are now being taken! We will begin shipping new editions of the Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Annotated Criminal Laws of Texas, Legislative Update, Texas Crimes, Quick Penal Code Summary, and Transportation Code in mid-August. Orders for the Grand Jury Handbook, Charging Manual, and Offense Report Manual will begin in September. Receive one of the first shipments of books by pre-ordering now on the TDCAA website (www.tdcaa.com/publications) or by calling us at 512/474-2436.

            Note that TDCAA also sells e-book versions of the Texas Penal Code and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which include both the annotations and the strikethrough/underline language used in the spiral-bound and annotated versions of TDCAA’s printed code books. Each e-book contains only the single code (Penal Code or Code of Criminal Procedure). Books are available exclusively on Amazon and through Apple's iBooks app and will be available for sale in late August.

Quotes of the week

 

“[Special sessions] generally don’t accrue to anyone’s political benefit unless it’s something absolutely critical to voters that they finally pass and finish up. … [They] can be risky in that the members are tired, feelings can be raw, the spotlight can be very intense.”

            —Ray Sullivan, former chief of staff for then-Governor Rick Perry, who called back legislators 12 times in 14 years.

 

“This session has been very, very difficult and emotional in many different ways, in many layers, over contentious issues, and there are enough of us here to remember a time in Texas when respect and decorum ruled the day. It’s just ironic—my senior [delegation] members that have been here dozens of years have told me this is the worst session they’ve ever seen.”

            —State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), commenting in the aftermath of the House floor incident on Sine Die.

 

“It happens every session. Just about every session somebody ends up getting in a fight, but it’s usually at midnight when they’ve had too many Jack Daniels. It’s not usually in the middle of the day over a substantive issue.”

            —Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), a former state legislator, when asked about the recent tussle on Sine Die.

 

“I talked to several of the members and told them they needed to cool down. We’ve been together for some long hours and late nights, and everybody is tired. And it’s time for everybody to go home and settle down.”

            —State Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), after helping to break up the near-fight on the House floor on the final day of session.

 

“Bills come into the committee. Not all of the bills come out. There’s really nothing more to say.”

            —State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), chairman of the powerful House Calendars Committee, when asked what happened to several legislative ethics reform bills that failed to make it to the House floor this session.

 

“[W]hen it gets to a special session, the time and the topics are solely up to the governor of the state of Texas, and we will be—if we have a special session—convening only on the topics that I choose at the time of my choosing." 

            —Governor Greg Abbott, issuing a statement on sine die (but somewhat overstating the limits upon a Legislature when called back for a special session).

 

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