This special session ends on Wednesday, August 16. Nine days and counting!
Things have slowed now that various bills blessed by the governor have been ramrodded through the Senate and sent to the House, which will take a more deliberate approach toward many of them. The pace of their work this week will determine the fate of most items on his agenda.
Meanwhile, some House committee chairmen have been taking advantage of their captive audience—by which we mean lobbyists and the Capitol press corps—to hold hearings on issues that are not on the special session agenda. There is little likelihood that these bills will move forward, but you can view them as preliminary interim hearings. For instance, two weeks ago the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee took testimony on four sexual assault-related bills as a counter-point to the “bathroom bill” debate going on in the Senate around the same time. Then last week, that committee heard five death penalty-related measures that would narrow the scope of that sanction in one way or another. And this Wednesday, that committee will hear three bills to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for certain drug offenses. All of the bills heard in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee so far have been left pending, but if you get asked questions about those topics back home, now you’ll know why.
Similarly, last week the House Corrections Committee heard testimony on HB 326 by S. Davis (R-Houston) which would require the Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) to re-assess its current guidelines. That bill was brought in response to several Houston-area murders committed by parolees who were free at the time of those murders despite having committed prior offenses while out on parole. During the hearing, testimony revealed that thousands of free-world crimes had been committed by parolees, yet many of them were still free on parole.
As with many issues at the Capitol, it may take only a few real-life horror stories for the Legislature to order the BPP to crack down on the looser parole practices that have prevailed since 2011, when a state budget crunch resulted in a noticeable uptick in releases on parole (with the Legislature’s silent blessing). However, if you’ve attended one of our Legislative Update classes this summer, you know that criminal justice reformers have learned that same lesson about turning horror stories and related narratives to their advantage. That could come into play here, as advocacy groups on the left and right have supported past attempts to get the BPP to review its guidelines—but for the opposite reason that some of you might wish for that to happen. We don’t expect anything to move forward on this front during the special session, but be aware that this is likely to be a topic studied in greater detail during the interim, so if you wish to see changes in parole policies next (regular) session, now is the time to start thinking about it.
Did we mention there are only nine days left in this special session? With no skin in the game, we’re merely counting down the days until it’s over.
DPS crime lab update
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? Consider this issue resolved for now, but perhaps not for good. Some people at the Capitol still think that DPS charging fees for testing evidence is a swell idea, so don’t be surprised if this topic is taken up again during the interim. Perhaps someday we’ll learn who was behind this last-minute switcheroo, but for now, just be grateful that this bullet was dodged thanks to a determined campaign by law enforcement agencies and advocates to educate policymakers about the consequences of such a drastic and unannounced change.
Legislative Update CLEs
Online registration for our popular Legislative Update seminars is available HERE. All attendees qualify for 3 hours or CLE and/or TCOLE credit and receive a copy of our 116-page Legislative Update book. TDCAA members who register online receive a $25 discount off the $125 registration fee, but online registration closes a few days before each seminar, so don’t delay, register today!
Shipping begins for 2017 code books
We are now shipping new and fully updated Penal Codes, Codes of Criminal Procedure, and other books! Order online now at www.tdcaa.com/publications or by calling 512/474-2436.
Quotes of the week
“[The DPS lab] should really only be used for major crimes like murder, homicide, and aggravated robbery. But when we send Class A and Class B misdemeanors, we’re overburdening the [lab] technicians, and it’s something that we have to remedy.”
—State Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-McAllen), chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the DPS budget, providing a partial explanation for why some budget-writers think charging law enforcement agencies for DPS lab services may be necessary to address lab backlogs.
“This was probably the fastest fix I’ve ever seen on anything.”
—State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), on the DPS lab fee turn-around.
“It ain’t Burger King. You don’t get a chance to have it your way.”
—Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, upon hearing that some juveniles were not appreciative of the menu selection in the county’s juvenile detention facility.