COMMITTEES CONTINUE TO RELEASE INTERIM REPORTS

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice completed and released its interim report, which addressed several interim charges.  Seven of the charges contained issues of interest to cities, including the following recommendations to the legislature:

Sex Offenders

  • Repeal Article 62.402 (A) and (B) of the Code of Criminal Procedure to enable Texas not to be bound to the federal minimum for sex offender registration requirements.
  • Establish a minimum standard for sex offender registration requirements, which include the current process for deregistration for those approved by the Council on Sex Offender Treatment.
  • Do not implement the Adam Walsh Act.
  • Require that all registered sex offenders have risk assessments done.
  • Continue working to improve communication between states regarding registered sex offenders who present a significant risk to community safety.

Driving While Intoxicated

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges as they relate to DWI convictions. The increasing number of drivers who are unlicensed and uninsured is unacceptable.
  • Add to current statutes incentives for suspected DWI offenders for submitting to a breath or blood test. At the time of a trial, if evidence is presented that a BAC of .15 or over is established, allow a first or second DWI offense to be punishable at the next level.
  • Establish strict guidelines for the execution of search warrants for suspected DWI case blood draws. Place limitations on the level of force allowed to obtain samples, and establish the professional certification level required for individuals who conduct these procedures.

Municipal Jails

  • Require registration of all municipal jails with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, including an annual report of the average number of persons detained per day, the average number of hours held prior to release, and a description of how the facility operates.
  • Adopt the “Best Practices” as defined by the Texas Police Chiefs Association (below) for use by all municipal jails, and as an element of the above registration, require certification that the municipal jails, holdovers, etc., are in compliance and if not, what actions are being implemented to obtain compliance. Those municipal jails not in compliance should be required, at the time of submission of the information called for, to submit their progress toward compliance, their reasons for lack of attainment and obstacles to achievement, the steps that will be taken to achieve compliance, and the date of their projected compliance.
  • Best Practices recommendations included:

    Search and Transport of Arrestees:  Police departments must have a written directive regarding searching and transporting adult prisoners, including: (1) requiring the search of all adult arrestees before transport; (2) approved methods of how to safely transport arrestees; (3) methods or actions for transporting sick, injured, or disabled arrestees; (4) search of the transporting vehicle before and after the transport; (5) proper use of restraining devices; (6) monitoring of the arrestee to avoid medical difficulties; and (7)  training of all personnel in these policies.

    Juveniles – Arrest, Detention, and Transportation:  Police departments must have a written directive regarding the arrest, detention, and transportation of juveniles, including: (1) the rights of arrested juveniles; (2) the searching of juveniles; (3) the methods of transporting juveniles to detention; (4) the use of restraints and monitoring of the prisoner; (5) approved methods and locations of detention; and (6) the development, control, and separate storage of juvenile files, preferably separately from adult files.

    Approval of Juvenile Holding Area:  Police departments must have written approval from a juvenile court judge or juvenile board for the holding and processing area of juvenile arrest, if used.

    Separation of Prisoners:  Police departments must provide for: (1) cell separation of males and females; and (2) sight and sound separation between arrested adults and juveniles.

    Jail Cells:  Jail cell areas must provide prisoners with access to water and toilet facilities, and access to food for prisoners who are detained through normal meal times.

    Visual Observation:  Personnel must visually observe prisoners every thirty minutes to one hour, as workload permits, in person or through a monitored camera system.

  • Require that all reports from municipal jails to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards be freely available to the public on the Internet.

Juvenile Offenders

  • Maintain better records on juveniles in local jails to ensure they are not being housed too long or with adult offenders.
  • Remove all citations issued to juveniles from municipal courts to juvenile courts in order to increase consistency.

Crime Labs

  • All crime labs should be independent of law enforcement, investigators, and prosecutors.
  • A centralized training center for forensic scientists should be pursued under the crime lab division. Such a model would accommodate the accreditation and certification of personnel through standardized procedures.
  • The Legislative Budget Board should be instructed to conduct a study to evaluate the cost benefit ratios of public versus private crime laboratories. It should also determine if competitive bidding between them would have a positive influence on testing cost.
  • State crime lab services should be on a fee recovery basis, and legislature mandating such is supported.

Mentally Ill Arrestees and Prisoners

  • Convene a meeting of key local and state criminal justice, mental health, regulatory, and law enforcement agencies to address implementation issues. This would provide stakeholders the opportunity to discuss implementation barriers and make recommendations toward resolving the problem areas.
  • Legislation that authorizes transportation of mentally ill individuals to state hospitals by means other than law enforcement resources should be considered. 

House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics

The House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, which considered three interim charges, recently released its interim report.  The report’s city-related recommendations are as follows:

  • Texas Ethics Commission Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 484:  Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 484 concluded that under the Penal Code, lobby law, and Title 15 of the Election Code, an elected officeholder may not accept transportation, meals, or lodging from a corporation or labor organization in return for addressing an audience or participating in a seminar if the officeholder’s services are in connection with his duties or activities as an officeholder, unless the transportation, meals, or lodging are reportable under the lobby law or are reimbursable with public money.  The committee recommended that the Commission:  (1) reconsider the opinion during an open meeting and provide the public opportunity to comment on the issue; and (2) consider exercising its rulemaking authority, after consideration in an open meeting, to clarify the manner in which an elected official can determine compliance with state law.
  • The Definition of “Political Advertising”:  The committee was charged with considering whether the definition of the term “political advertising” should be expanded to include content contained in blogs and other Internet communications.  The committee recommended that the legislature:  (1) consider regulating blogs from a political committee that are placed on another person’s Web site for a fee; and (2) continue to monitor Internet communication regulations at the state level and the implementation of the Federal Election Commission and the Maryland State Board of Elections Internet communication regulations.

The full text of the report is available online at
http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committees/reports/82interim/House-Committee-on-General-Investigating-and-Ethics-Interim-Report-2010.pdf.

Senate State Affairs Committee

At the end of 2009, the Senate State Affairs Committee was given fourteen charges to consider.  Of interest to cities, those charges included:   (1) workers compensation issues; and (2) open government as relates to social media.  The committee reviewed the issues and came up with the following recommendations:

  • Workers Compensation:  The committee discussed the idea that workers compensation benefits do not pay as much for catastrophic injuries, such as the loss of limbs or paralysis, as lawsuit awards.  The committee decided that the purpose of workers compensation benefits is to pay lost wages due to permanent impairment caused by workplace injury or illness, and not to make the employee whole the way tort law is designed to do. In the end, the committee recommended that the legislature should address this inadequacy by changing benefits for catastrophically-injured workers, including those sustaining severe burns, paralysis, and death. 
  • Open Meetings and Public Information Act:  The committee discussed the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act and took testimony on the issues.  The committee recommended that the legislature update the Acts and the record retention statutes to address newer technologies, such as e-mail, Internet, and social media. The committee also recommended that the legislature consider forming an advisory board made up of state agency representatives to address ongoing public information and open meetings issues relative to current and future technology developments. The committee recommended that this group work with the Public Electronic Services On-the-Internet (PESO) workgroup coordinated by the Department of Information Resources. Finally, the committee recommended that – if amendments are made to the Acts – the legislature should also provide for new and “thorough” training for all entities subject to the Acts, including cities.

The entire report is available at
 http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/commit/c570/c570.InterimReport81.pdf.

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