Texas House Committees Start Discussion on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Bills

March 12, 2021

Legislative News

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Texas House committees were full steam ahead this week as several committees met to hear public testimony on filed legislation. The House committees on Criminal Jurisprudence and Juvenile Justice and Family Issues both started off the week by hearing legislation on Monday.

The Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues heard 12 bills on a variety of subjects. These included House Bill 686 by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), which would allow for early parole of certain inmates who committed specified capital and first degree felony offenses when they were younger than 18 years old. The committee also heard House Bill 80 by Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), which would prohibit a justice or judge from imposing fines or court costs on defendants under the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services or in extended foster care.

The Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence heard three bills from Chair Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth). One of those bills, House Bill 689, would require a magistrate conducting magistration virtually to ensure that an arrested person can understand the image and sound of the proceeding. If he or she is unable to ensure this requirement, the magistrate must begin the process of appointing counsel. Additionally, if the magistrate has reason to believe that the arrested person is suffering from mental illness or an intellectual development disability, the magistrate must follow Article 16.22 from the Code of Criminal Procedure. Brazos County Judge Rick Hill, board president of Justices of the Peace and Constables Association, testified in support of the bill. He explained that this was already common practice and answered questions from the committee regarding the magistration process.

The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas (SAT) testified in support of House Bill 873 by Collier, which would repeal and replace the current statute for unlawful restraint of a dog. The bill would create a Class C misdemeanor offense that increases to a Class B misdemeanor if the defendant has previously been convicted of the same offense. Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne stated in testimony, “This is an important bill to counties…it is a tool for a sheriff or county animal control to have the ability to address these issues.” SAT appreciates Collier’s efforts to give law enforcement the statutory framework to address inhumane treatment of a restrained unattended dog, and that the bill considers circumstances where a working dog may be engaged in shepherding or herding livestock. The bill provides exceptions to the restraint prohibition related to transportation of dogs in open-air truck beds, training in a licensed program, hunting and field trial activities.

These exceptions recognize important rural activities, and are a critical element for SAT support. All bills heard in these committees were left pending. The TAC legislative team will monitor subsequent hearings and provide updates as legislation begins to move.

For more information on this article, please contact Amy Befeld, Austin McCarty or Kelsey Bernstein