As of April 4th, 2011, the Texas legislature only has 56 days left to complete their business in the regularly called session. Many people are predicting one or more special sessions due to budgetary issues. Last week, the House approved $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to pay the State’s bills from now through August of 2011. This was necessary as state revenues have not kept up with expenses. Although over $6 billion remains in the Rainy Day Fund, Governor Perry has said that he would not approve a budget for 2011–2012 that taps that emergency fund.
In regards to criminal law bills, TCDLA is tracking several hundred bills. Although we are playing defense on many of these bills, there are several positive bills making their way through the system. The eyewitness identification bill, from the Tim Cole Commission, has already received preliminary approval in both chambers. No other major legislation, either good or bad, has advanced at this point as committees are deep in their work. Last week, approximately ten lawyers came to the Capitol to speak against a poorly conceived bill that would significantly impair the ALR system. This was appreciated as this bill hearing fell on a Tuesday when we track three and sometimes four committee meetings at the same time.
Two bills vetoed last session are again under consideration. There are several expunction bills in both chambers that would clarify and improve this statute. Also, a bill improving the sex offender registration system for some offenders is being heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee the week of April 4th.
The surcharge system has been criticized since it began several years ago. More than one legislator indicated a bill would be filed to terminate or at least redefine the program. However, the leading proponent of repealing the surcharge program pulled his bill last week due to the high cost of doing so. In other words, the bill was pulled by the author because the State needs all available revenue.
We have had a lot of calls regarding the DWI deferred bill. This matter has not yet come up for a hearing in the Senate although the House heard the bill in late March. The bill is not a “pure” deferred adjudication and has some mandatory requirements, such as interlock. There are a lot of mixed feelings in the legislature on this subject and it is too early to predict the future of this bill.
Within the next two months, the legislature intends to do the following: pass a budget, draw new legislative and congressional districts, pass various Sunset bills to keep several state agencies operating, and pass several “emergency items” such as Voter ID, eminent domain, and elimination of sanctuary cities. Our goal remains the same—to promote bills that provide for equal justice and fair play in the criminal justice system. We will do our best to keep our eye on that goal every day, and I hope to see all of you at Rusty Duncan in San Antonio in June.