We are in high gear at the capitol, and Just Liberty doesn’t want you to miss a moment. Our list of reforms is growing and the bills are making their way in and out of committees as we speak. You’ve been instrumental in the momentum behind these bills and in their movement. You have helped contribute to more than 50,000 letters urging Texas legislators to support good bills! With the leg work Just Liberty and our allies are doing under the Pink Dome and your emails streaming into inboxes, we are building a dynamic force for criminal-justice reform.
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. While you’re at it, Like or Follow your lawmakers on social media and send them a message about the reforms you support.
And of course, we’re excited that so many of you have taken Just Liberty’s actions, emailing your elected officials in support of bipartisan criminaljustice reform. Here’s an overview of our latest initiatives:
Stop Pretrial Punishment
The buzz around bail reform is thick at the capitol, with HB 3011 (Murr-R) and SB 1338 (Whitmire-D) proposing to replace Texas’ money-based bail system with a risk-based design. The push is to improve the way judges make release decisions. With a risk-based system, judges can use an automated system created by the Office of Court Administration to determine each defendant’s likelihood of flight and of committing a new crime during pretrial.
One benefit to risk-based bail is that low-risk, low-level arrestees who can’t afford bail won’t be held while awaiting trial. In Harris County, 70% of the jail population are in pretrial detention, including low-risk defendants who 1) don’t have the funds for release, 2) absolutely should not be jailed alongside high-risk, violent defendants, 3) are likely to re-offend in the future, unlike their low-risk counterparts who are able to get out during pretrial, and 4) cost taxpayers $59 per day to house.
Reform would retain judges’ discretion to determine release or detention, and with the risk-based assessment tool, would better inform those decisions. No longer will high-risk defendants get out and have opportunities to commit new crimes and no longer will low-risk arrestees be placed in precarious circumstances that result in long expanses of time away from family, friends, and employment, or in plea deals made by innocent people to expedite their release. Go here to learn more about risk-based bail reform
Increase Police Accountability
Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson has drawn up an omnibus police reform bill that would provide improvements in police accountability and transparency. HB 2044 aims to reduce unwarranted police shootings by dictating that use of deadly force can only be used when there is imminent threat of harm to officers or another person. The bill also provides for a disciplinary matrix that applies a pre-set punishment for various acts of misconduct in order to make penalties concise and appropriate. Promotions would also be determined based on tracked conduct.
Racial profiling is another key factor of the bill, as it improves data collection for all stops, including those where a person is let off with a warning and hit rates for contraband during searches. Trends in stops based on race will provide for insight into racial profiling tendencies for police officers and an early warning system for misconduct. These are but a few reforms the bill proposes that would increase trust and accountability. Go here to learn more about the omnibus police accountability bill
Act for Sandra Bland & Improve Policing
Rep. Garnet Coleman appropriately dubbed HB 2702 “The Sandra Bland Act,” as the bill stands to improve many of the factors that led to Ms. Bland’s arrest and untimely in-custody death. The bill ends arrests for fine-only offenses, eliminates pretext stops for minor traffic offenses to perform roadside investigations, provides that magistrates can release non-violent misdemeanants on a personal recognizance bond, and enacts a complaint process for all tickets, citations, and warnings. The latter would point to racial disparities and lead to training and counseling for police officers, and to suspension for recurring racial profiling.
Additionally, HB 2702 prioritizes treatment over incarceration and demands that police officers make a good faith effort to direct arrestees to suitable treatment services. It provides for 24-hour mental health staff, timed cell checks, and the availability of prescribed medications for arrestees. Go here to learn more about the multi-faceted Sandra Bland Act
Here’s whats happening with bills in committee:
Stop arresting people for non-jailable offenses
HB 567 (White-R) and HB 574 (Thompson-D) to end arrests for fine-only offenses had hearings in Homeland Security and Public Safety on March 21, and both are pending in the committee. Just Liberty and our allies were present to give testimony on behalf of these bills, and including our strategy of having folks like you from around Texas voice their support to the Chairman and committee members via email, we were well-prepared with a strong showing. Reps. Thompson and White are now collaborating to conjoin their bills, and held a joint conversation with Texas Tribune on Friday, March 31 to discuss the importance of ending arrests for non-jailable offenses.
End asset forfeiture abuses
HB 1364 (Thompson-D) was heard on March 29 in House Criminal Jurisprudence, and was left pending. Just Liberty and our allies were present and ready with testimony at the hearing. The bill proposes 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.
Please keep up the momentum and keep an eye out for more opportunities from Just Liberty to become engaged. As session progresses and we move forward as an organization, we’ll be asking for more of your engagement to create much-needed change.
We also urge you to stay abreast of the issues Just Liberty is focused on by subscribing to the criminal-justice blog Grits for Breakfast at gritsforbreakfast.org, which for the past 12 years has been authored by Yours Truly, Just Liberty’s policy director. Described as “A protein-laden dose of big thinking on criminal justice reform” by the publisher of The Texas Tribune, Grits keeps you on top of Texas justice-reform topics that are important to you.