During the 2019 Texas Legislative Session, Austin Justice Coalition will be advocating for the following changes to Austin’s public safety systems and more.
2017 was a very difficult session dominated by competing Republican party electoral narratives by the Speaker and the Lt. Gov and focused on immigration and the bathroom bill. The competing narratives about what it means to be a Texas Republican resulted in a huge slowdown in the overall passage of bills, with dozens of bills held up at the Speaker and Lt. Governor level, crossing to the opposite chamber but not getting a referral to committee. On criminal justice in particular, we faced additional pressure from the Governor to “back the blue” and sit on the sidelines while the police unions passed a Christmas list of new protections against misconduct, “driver education” as the solution to roadside escalation/use of force, and more.
However, we did not sit on the sidelines! The AJC Legislative team showed up, had its own priorities, generated new and unexpected bill momentum for real police reforms like non-jailables, and also provided support for the entire criminal justice reform movement as well as support for certain education and housing bills. AJC volunteers became familiar faces in dozens of offices supporting Raise the Age, bail reform, school suspensions, mental health diversion, police reforms including ending arrests for non-jailable offenses, and much more. By supporting so many different bills early in the process, AJC was welcomed into offices and able to have discussion with staff even when we opposed bills. Many offices complimented AJC on our persistence and dedication. Offices started soliciting our help as session progressed.
SB 1849 Sandra Bland Act
(‘Sandra Bland Act’ sent to Texas governor, focuses on jail mental health. The proposal originally called for broad police accountability and anti-racial profiling measures.)
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 grants (available under SB 292)
Commission on Jail Standards must adopt rules to implement prescription drug benefit continuity after arrest
Commission on Jail Standards must adopt requirements for training/testing jail administrators so they are not ignorant
Jail deaths must be investigated by an indendent LE agency not connected to the jail administration (probably will also require rulemaking)
Requires de-escalation training for police
Improves racial profiling data collection to include “warning” stops (will absolutely impact Austin data), whether physical force was used, reason for stop, and reporting must include analysis of contraband hit rates.
2. HB 351 Addressing fines and fees for indigent people (SB 1913 has same core provisions and also passed)
Main bill allows judges to make a determination upon conviction that a person can’t pay fines and fees associated with a conviction and substitute community service or waive fines and fees.
Senate amendment reduces most check forgery from a felony to a misdemeanor
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
3. SB 160 Ends the artificial cap on enrollment of kids in special education services.
4. HB 34 Innocence bill
Requires interrogators to record interrogations for certain major felonies
Modestly improves standards for eye witness identification
Requires information about snitches’ history of snitching and what the snitch was given to be shared with the defense attorney
5. HB 674 – Limits out of school suspensions for kids under third grade.
6. HB 245 – Increases the penalty for law enforcement agencies that fail to report police shootings to the AG
7. 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
8. HB 322 – Allows criminal record expunction for people who successfully complete veteran’s court diversion program.
9. 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.
10. SB 1584 – Requires a needs assessment before someone can be revoked to a TDCJ drug treatment bed
11. HB 1507 – Requires court to tell people that they get their rights back, and exactly which rights upon completion of sentence/probation
12. HB 91 – 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.
13. HB 1426 – HB 1426 creates a “certificate of relief” to improve access to occupational licenses for people who successfully complete requirements.
14. HB 337 – Suspension of Medicaid instead of termination when a person is arrested so that they can quickly get Medicaid reinstated upon release
15. HB 681 – Nondisclosure to the public (info will still be available to prosecutors and law enforcement) of nonjailable offenses after five years
16. HB 3016 – Criminal history nondisclosure for certain people who have served time. Previously, people who served time have not be eligible.
17. SB 30 – requires training for both police and citizens about behavior at traffic stops, but was stripped of requirements related to de-escalation and Thompson amendment related to long term study of traffic stop policing outcomes.
18. SB 292 – grants for mental health diversion. This bill allows “diversion” to jail-based mental health beds. It can become real diversion but only with aggressive participation at the local level by groups like AJC.
19. HB 2053 – passed officially increasing the share of court costs directed to indigent defense but the Senate has segregated the new funds and placed them in an account not appropriated as part of balancing the budget.
20. HB 557 – intended to expand access to expunction for people who are never charged or finally acquitted, appears to actually limit expunction in those cases to people with nonjailable offenses. May need to get an expert to explain how this bill didn’t end up limiting expunction rather than expanding it.
HB 2068 – Phillips DRP repeal, cure worse than the disease – AJC was the only voice of opposition to this approach to DRP repeal in the House, and helped highlight the need for indigency amendments in the Senate. Bill eventually died when Sen. Nelson decided it was just not a good way to pay for trauma care.
HB 2050 – G. Bonnen making police misconduct records confidential at the local agency if the information is reported to TCOLE.
HB 577 – Workman’s fair chance hiring bill to eliminate local ordinances to ban the box
SB 1487 – by West that would have replicated the bad body camera law and applied it to dash cam video, overall limiting access to dash cam video that is currently releasable under open records. We first got the very worst provisions out of the bill (like the one giving police officers immediate access to dash cam video before having to make a statement) but then just jawboned it to death.
HB 2098 – leadership “hate crimes” for police bill with massive and unnecessary enhancements for all interactions with police officers, from shouting to restraining to simple assault. Terrible bill, will be difficult (but maybe not impossible) to monitor outcomes.
SB 4 – what else can we say besides, “AUGH!” SB 4 will more than likely increase arrests for Class C non-jailable offenses for anyone who can’t “show me your papers.”
HB 3391 – creating a diversion court for police officers accused of crimes. Allows prosecutor and defendant to agree to “treatment” for mental illness or PTSD and upon completion charges will be dismissed. Modeled after veteran’s courts, but becomes another way for officers to avoid criminal charges in the unlikely event that the grand jury actually votes to indict.
HB 867 – doubling the number of “school marshals” that can carry guns in schools.
Raise the Age
Ending roadside body cavity search
Grand Jury Reform
Civil Service Police Reform/Statutory Lethal Force Reform
Rose’s Community Policing Bill
No arrest for non-jailable offenses.
In the end, although we didn’t get everything we wanted, AJC and it’s awesome volunteers were able to get a few things done this legislative session by getting involved in their state lawmaking process and making sure their voices were heard. And the things we didn’t get this session are definitely at the top of our priority list for 2019!