Greetings! Thank you for joining Just Liberty’s growing, bipartisan list of Texans committed to giving tickets instead of arrest for minor traffic offenses and small amounts of pot, and reducing overly harsh penalties for a range of other minor infractions. Texans in jail or prison for minor offenses lose their jobs and their ability to be responsible for their families and their future. We’re successfully pushing the state in a better direction.
You’ve joined us at moment when the movement in Texas to promote individual liberty – and to chip away at decades of mass incarceration policies – is strong and vibrant. More than 25,000 Just Liberty supporters contacted the Texas Legislature in just the last few months to support good bills that improve the system. Thanks to people like you, budget writers this year closed four more prisons, bringing the total to eight closed since 2013! Texas now imprisons fewer people, while crime rates continue to decline to levels comparable with those in the 1960s. Together, we can build on that record!
For examples of the sorts of change we work on and support, find below a summary of reform legislation that Just Liberty supported in the 2017 Texas Legislature. Going forward, we’ll be working on these and related issues at the local level. And be sure to take the action asking Gov. Greg Abbott to sign the Sandra Bland Act into law. Check out our wins and losses below and thanks for joining Just Liberty in our fight for justice and safety in Texas.
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Despite intense opposition, and with your help, Just Liberty and our allies eked out some important bills at the end of an otherwise brutal legislative session. We can’t thank you enough for taking our online actions and contributing to the movement for criminal-justice reform in Texas. Here’s an update on what happened on some of our big issues this year during the 85th Texas Legislature:
Take a gander at our wins:
The Sandra Bland Act. While the title of this bill will be disputed among its supporters and opponents for years to come, it can’t be argued that SB 1849 achieved several important changes that criminal-justice reformers have been seeking for a long time. Now we just need Gov. Greg Abbott to sign it! Per the bill:
- Law enforcement “shall make a good faith effort to divert” people in mental health crisis or suffering the effects of substance abuse to treatment instead of jail.
- Directs formation of “community collaboratives” to apply for mental health grants available under SB 292 (see below).
- Commission on Jail Standards must adopt rules to ensure people aren’t denied necessary prescription drug, particularly mental health medications, after arrest.
- Commission on Jail Standards must adopt requirements for training/testing jail administrators to help them professionalize.
- Jail deaths must be investigated by an independent law enforcement agency not connected to the jail administration.
- Requires new de-escalation training for police
- Improves racial profiling data collection to include “warning” stops, whether physical force was used, the reason for stop, and contraband “hit rates” resulting from roadside searches.
Debtor’s Prison Reform. HB 351 addresses fines and fees for indigent people.
- Main bill allows judges to waive fines and fees or assign community service when a person can’t pay. The old law required judges impose the fine and wait until indigent defendants defaulted before using those options.
- Senate amendment reduces check forgery from a felony to a misdemeanor for small amounts.
- Senate amendment allows pre-trial services to access drug treatment beds for pre-trial diversion (previously limited to drug courts, post conviction).
- Senate amendment continues work of commission reviewing criminal penalties outside the penal code for possible reduction or elimination.
Wrongful Convictions for Felonies Averted with HB 34. Another win for innocence reformers passed, adding to a long line of such bills over a string of sessions. HB 34:
- Requires police to record interrogations for certain major felonies.
- Modestly improves standards for eyewitness identification.
- Requires information about informants’ history of past snitching and what incentives they were given to be shared with the defense attorney.
Limiting Pre-K to 2nd Grade School Suspensions with HB 674. Seeing the direct link between criminalizing our youngest school kids and Texas’ high school drop out rate and future criminal activity, Just Liberty supporters stepped up to ensure this bill to limit suspensions passed. Under this bill, schools may develop and implement a program to provide a disciplinary alternative for Pre-K to 2nd grade students. Out-of-school suspension is permissible when weapons, violence, drugs, or alcohol are involved, but those circumstances are quite rare among very young kids.
Other Good Criminal Justice Bills of Note:
- HB 245. Increases the penalty for law enforcement agencies that fail to report police shootings to the AG
- HB 4102/HB 281/ HB 1729. Creates tracking system for rape kit evidence and voluntary contribution grant program (hosted by DPS and available for people to donate when they renew their TXDL) to support rape kit testing and tracking system
- HB 322. Allows criminal record expunction for people who successfully complete veteran’s court diversion program.
- HB 2888. If a person in prison must take a class or complete a program in order to be eligible for parole, TDCJ must actually offer access to that class or program prior to the first parole date.
- SB 1584. Requires a needs assessment before someone can be revoked to a TDCJ drug-treatment bed
- HB 1507. Requires court to tell people that they get their rights back, and exactly which rights upon completion of sentence/probation
- HB 91/HB 1426. Access to occupational licenses for people with criminal history. HB 91 creates a review of use of criminal history to limit access to occupational licenses with recommendation to gov. as to ways to improve access to occupational licenses for formerly incarcerated or people with criminal records. HB 1426 creates a “certificate of relief” to improve access to occupational licenses for people who successfully complete requirements.
- HB 337. Suspension of Medicaid instead of termination when a person is arrested so that they can quickly get Medicaid reinstated upon release
- HB 681. Nondisclosure to the public (info will still be available to prosecutors and law enforcement) of nonjailable offenses after five years
- HB 3016. Criminal history nondisclosure for certain people who have served time. Previously, people who served time have not be eligible.
- SB 292. Diverts people with mental illness who pose no risk to public safety into effective medical care and away from jail.
Then there’s the too-long list of good bills Just Liberty supported that died:
- HB 3011/SB1338 to Stop Pretrial Punishment. This bill pushed to improve the way judges make pretrial release decisions, reducing reliance on money bail. Under a risk-based system, judges would use an automated assessment tool created by the Office of Court Administration to determine each defendant’s likelihood of flight and of committing a new crime. Two-thirds of Texas jail inmates have not yet been convicted of anything, are eligible for release, but are incarcerated because they can’t make bail.
- HB 2044 to Increase Police Accountability. Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson’s omnibus police reform bill that would provide improvements in police accountability and transparency died in committee. It aimed to reduce unwarranted police shootings by changing the standards for the use of deadly force, providing for a disciplinary matrix that applies a pre-set punishment for various acts of misconduct, and improving racial profiling data collection for all stops.
- HB 567 and HB 574 to stop arresting people for non-jailable offenses. We worked this bill from all angles, and negotiated to produce a bill that police agencies and unions could agree on. In the end, though it passed out of committee, it died without receiving a vote on the House floor. Expect this bill -which has strong bipartisan support, including an endorsement in the Republican Party platform – to be resurrected in 2019.
- HB 1364 to end asset forfeiture abuses. This bipartisan bill proposed the repeal of civil asset forfeiture, a policy that buckles under constitutional scrutiny, requiring a criminal conviction before the government could seize someone’s assets.
- HB 2068 for DRP repeal. This bill’s intent was to repeal the Driver Responsibility Program – the loss of livelihoods, the double-down on fees assessed on motorists, the drain on court resources and public funds, and the growing threat to public safety due to recidivism of DWI offenders. However, this was a bill turned bad, with a cure worse than the disease. Despite our early support, we supported the killing of this bill to stave off a much more problematic “solution.”
- HB 122 to raise the age for charging youth with adult crimes from 17 to 18. This bill passed the House easily but died in the senate when the Lt. Governor refused to refer it to committee.
Considering the climate at the capitol this session – which was mainly defined by political infighting and petty politics over bathrooms and immigrants – criminal-justice reformers were able to achieve numerous victories by strategically focusing on perhaps-less visible but worthwhile bills.
You have helped contribute to more than 50,000 letters urging Texas legislators to support these good bills! With the followup legwork that Just Liberty and our allies did under the Pink Dome, and your emails streaming into inboxes, we built a dynamic force for criminal-justice reform. And we’re just getting started!
We invite you to Like us on Facebook and/or Follow us on Twitter to become even more active with Just Liberty and take part in an energetic conversation about our bipartisan push for reform. We will continue to the fight for liberty and safety during the interim, so we urge you to stay involved.
In the meantime, now is the moment to make sure Gov. Abbott signs the good bills that passed (go here to ask him to sign the Sandra Bland Act) and to plan for the future – both fighting for local implementation of good bills that passed and building momentum toward doing even better in 2019. Thanks for your support!