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This session, legislators filed more than 6,000 bills. However, only about 1,200 of them ultimately passed. A considerable number affect county government. TAC legislative staff has highlighted some of the county-related bills that passed during the regular session. A more comprehensive list of county-related bill summaries will be available online later this summer in our 2017 Legislative Analysis Report.
SB 1584 by Garcia. Relating to the conditions of community supervision. Requires a risk and needs assessment be conducted and provided to a judge prior to determining conditions of probation. Additionally, a judge must consider the impact that conditions of probation may have on a defendant’s work or education obligations, including ability to pay. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 2228 by Murphy. Relating to deadlines for performing various functions in connection with the ad valorem tax system. Changes the deadlines for multiple property tax related issues. Requires chief appraisers to accept late applications for freeport exemptions if they are received by June 15. Changes the dates for application forms for persons claiming interstate allocation of certain property. Rendition statements and property report deadlines submitted for property in taxing units that offer Freeport exemptions have also been changed to April 1, and the chief appraiser may extend that deadline in certain circumstances. Finally, the bill makes changes to the appraisal protest deadlines. Effective 1/1/2018.
SB 731 by Bettencourt. Relating to the appeal through binding arbitration of certain appraisal review board orders. Revises the maximum value of a property for which an appeal through binding arbitration of certain appraisal review board orders may be made from $3 million to $5 million. A completed request for binding arbitration must include a deposit made payable to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts of $1,550 for properties between $3 million and $5 million. Effective 9/1/2017.
Child Protective Services Reform
HB 7 by Wu. Relating to child protective services suits, motions, and services by the Department of Family and Protective Services and to the licensing of certain facilities, homes, and agencies that provide child-care services. Revises various court procedures in Child Protective Services cases. Among many provisions, the bill specifies that an order appointing the Department of Family and Protective Services as managing conservator may provide for the continuation of the appointment of an attorney ad litem for as long as the child remains in the custody of the Department. Prescribes limitations on when a court may terminate parental rights or remove a child from a household. Additionally, the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families is required to study the appointment and use of attorneys ad litem in cases involving the Department of Family and Protective Services and develop policy recommendations for improving the attorney ad litem appointment process. Effective 9/1/2017, except for certain sections.
SB 11 by Schwertner. Relating to the provision of child protective services and other health and human services by certain state agencies or under contract with a state agency, including foster care, child protective, relative and kinship caregiver support, prevention and early intervention health care, and adoption services. Reforms the state’s current administration of child welfare services. Among many provisions, the bill expands community-based care. Specifically, it requires the Department of Family and Protective Services to identify not more than eight catchment areas that are best suited to implement community-based care and contract with community-based nonprofit and governmental entities to provide child welfare services in those areas, including direct case management.
Additionally, the bill requires the Department to implement a pilot program in two child protective services regions involving contracts with non-profit or governmental entities to provide family-based safety services. Effective 9/1/2017, except Section 23 takes effect 5/31/2017.
HB 1288 by Rose. Relating to broker agreements for the leasing of real property owned by a county. Authorizes a commissioners court to use a broker to lease county property. Effective 5/23/2017.
HB 2040 by King, Phil. Relating to the building code standards for new residential construction in the unincorporated area of certain counties; affecting the prosecution of a criminal offense. Creates enforcement options for counties that have adopted an order for new residential building construction codes in the unincorporated area of the county. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 4104 by Coleman. Relating to the county budget for certain court personnel. Clarifies commissioners court authority to determine the number of court administrator positions and salaries. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 4114 by Coleman. Relating to county approval for the locations at which a junkyard or automotive wrecking and salvage yard may be operated. Allows a commissioners court to delegate authority to an employee for the purposes of approving junkyard or automotive wrecking yard locations. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 988 by Zaffirini. Relating to the participation of a county judge in a meeting of a commissioners court conducted by videoconference call. Provides that the county judge is no longer the presiding officer of a commissioners court meeting when participating via videoconference call. Effective 5/10/2017.
SB 1120 by Zaffirini. Relating to the prohibition of local motor fuel taxes on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. Prevents a county from imposing a sales and use tax on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. Effective 5/10/2017.
SB 1172 by Perry. Relating to the regulation of seed by a political subdivision. Prohibits a county from regulating agricultural seed, vegetable seed, weed seed or any other seed in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed, with certain exceptions. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 431 by Metcalf. Relating to a temporary justice of the peace. Allows the county judge, on the judge’s own motion or at the request of the justice of the peace, to appoint a qualified person to serve as temporary justice for the duration of the absence of the justice of the peace from the bench. Effective 5/29/2017.
HB 681 by Wu. Relating to restricting access to certain information that relates to a person convicted of or granted a dismissal after deferral of disposition for a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Prohibits certain records relating to fine-only misdemeanor offenses from being disclosed to the public after the fifth anniversary of a final conviction, or dismissal after deferral of disposition. All records and files and information stored by electronic means or otherwise shall be held confidential and may only be viewed by judges or court staff; a criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose; a defendant or defendant’s counsel; the Department of Public Safety; an attorney representing the state; and, if a traffic offense, an insurance company. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 2207 by Kuempel. Relating to procedures and fees for the deposit and safekeeping of wills. Allows for an attorney, business entity, or other person to deposit a testator’s will with the county clerk of the county of the testator’s last known residence address if they are unable to maintain custody of the will. Requires an attorney, business entity, or other person to provide to the county clerk the last known address of the testator and if the will names an executor, the last known address of the executor named in the will, including alternate executors, on a wrapper of the will when deposited with the county clerk. Additionally, the county clerk is required to receive and keep a will deposited for safekeeping. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 42 by Zaffirini. Relating to the security of courts and judges in the state; establishing a fee. Addresses court security through a variety of means: Establishes local court security committees; requires a law enforcement agency that provides court security to provide the Office of Court Administration with a written report on any security incident; requires specialized training for court security officers; and facilitates the removal of the personal information of judicial officials from certain public documents. The bill also establishes a $5 Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fee on the filing of any civil action and provides funding for security training for law enforcement and court personnel. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 47 by Zaffirini. Relating to a study on the availability of information regarding convictions and deferred dispositions for certain misdemeanors punishable by fine only. Requires the Office of Court Administration to conduct a study on how records regarding fine-only misdemeanors, other than traffic offenses, are held in different Texas counties. Requires the study to address the public availability of those records; the reasons and criteria for any destruction of records; and the retention schedule of each local agency that routinely destroys those records. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 34 by Smithee. Relating to measures to prevent wrongful convictions. Implements recommendations adopted by the Timothy Cole Exoneration Commission relating to the prevention of wrongful convictions. Requires law enforcement to make electronic recordings of certain custodial interrogations of persons suspected or charged with certain violent and serious felony offenses. Adds requirements for law enforcement policies on eyewitness identification procedures and revises procedures relating to the use of jailhouse informant testimony. Additionally, the bill requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission to conduct a study on the use of drug field test kits by law enforcement and a study on crime scene investigations. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 3016 by Thompson, Senfronia. Relating to the eligibility of a criminal defendant for an order of nondisclosure of criminal history record information. Expands eligibility for orders of nondisclosure to include certain defendants convicted of first-time driving while intoxicated offenses with blood alcohol levels less than 0.15 and certain defendants convicted of fine-only misdemeanors. Authorizes eligible DWI offenders to petition the court for a nondisclosure order after specified waiting periods. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 25 by Simmons. Relating to the elimination of straight-party voting. Eliminates straight ticket voting in the state. The secretary of state is required to establish rules and procedures for the implementation of the elimination of straight-party voting. Effective 9/1/2020.
HB 658 by Bernal. Relating to voting by voters with certain disabilities or voters who reside at a residential care facility. Gives voting priorities to voters with substantial disabilities and impaired mobility. Notice of priority is required to be posted in each polling place, website of the Secretary of State, and each website maintained by the county. The bill also adds chapter 107 to the Election Code relating to early voting at a residential care facility to facilitate voting in a nursing home, a long-term care facility, or a retirement center where residents lack adequate transportation to travel to a polling place and are 65 years or older, disabled, or indefinitely confined. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 5 by Huffman. Relating to requiring a voter to present proof of identification; providing a criminal penalty and increasing a criminal penalty. Requires the secretary of state to establish a program using mobile locations to provide election identification certificates to voters at no charge at various locations across the state. Requires a voter to present an acceptable form of photo identification or one form of specified identification, including a voter’s voter registration certificate, current utility bill, bank statement, government check, pay check, or a certified copy of a domestic birth certificate. Allows a person 70 years of age or older to use a form of photo identification that has expired for the purposes of voting if the identification is otherwise valid.
A form of identification that is not an acceptable photo identification must be accompanied by a declaration of reasonable impediment. An election officer may not question the reasonableness sworn to by the voter in a declaration because the address does not match the address on the list of registered voters. A voter is subject to prosecution for making false statements or providing false information on the declaration.
Additionally, expiration dates for acceptable forms of photo identification expiration dates are increased from 60 days to no earlier than four years before the date of presentation for voting. Effective 1/1/2018.
HB 435 by King, Ken. Relating to the carrying of weapons, including the application of certain weapons and handgun license laws to certain persons, the carrying of handguns by license holders on the property of a state hospital, and the liability for certain actions of volunteer emergency services personnel licensed to carry a handgun; providing a civil penalty. Allows designated volunteer emergency personnel to carry a weapon on duty, however the use of the weapon is outside the duties of the volunteer releasing the county from any liability. The bill also authorizes a state hospital to prohibit a person from carrying a handgun on the property of the hospital. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 1407 by Sheffield. Relating to the establishment of the emergency medical services assistance program. Creates the Emergency Medical Services Assistance Program designed to provide financial aid and educational assistance to eligible medical services providers. The bill will help rural services recruit and train new emergency medical providers by offering distance learning opportunities. No funding is currently available, but efforts are being made to provide funding in the future. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 500 by Taylor, Van. Relating to the effect of certain felony convictions of public elected officers. Prohibits elected officials from receiving public retirement benefits if they are convicted of a qualifying felony committed while in office and arising directly from the duties of that elected office. Allows an official whose conviction is overturned to continue to receive annuity payments under certain conditions. Effective 6/6/2017.
Fees and Fines
HB 555 by Springer. Relating to an additional fee issuing a marriage license to applicants who are not residents of this state and the form of a marriage license and application of a marriage license. Requires a county clerk to charge a $100 fee for a marriage license from an out-of-state applicant. Requires a marriage license issued by a county clerk to identify the name of the county in which the license is issued and allows, but does not require, the name of the county clerk to be included on the license. Effective 6/12/2017.
HB 3167 by Paddie. Relating to the program for improvement of collection of court costs, fees, and fines imposed in criminal cases. Raises the bracket on the population threshold for mandatory county implementation of a Collection Improvement Program from 50,000 to 100,000, allowing 23 additional counties to choose how to best collect delinquent fines and fees. Under prior law, counties with populations of 50,000 or greater were required to operate a Collection Improvement Program; now, only counties with populations of 100,000 or greater are required to operate such a program. Effective 6/1/2017.
SB 1913 by Zaffirini. Relating to the administrative, civil, and criminal consequences, including fines, fees, and costs, imposed on persons arrested for, charged with, or convicted of certain criminal offenses. Includes numerous provisions relating to the assessment and collection of criminal court costs for defendants who are unable to pay. Specifically, the bill requires a court (including district, county, and justice courts) during or immediately after a sentence is imposed, to inquire whether a defendant has sufficient resources to immediately pay all or part of the fine and costs. If the court determines that the defendant does not have sufficient resources, the court is required to determine whether the fine and costs should be: paid at some later date or at designated intervals; discharged by community service; waived in full or part; or satisfied through any combination of these methods.
Additionally, the bill requires standard language in certain citations and notices regarding alternatives to payment of any fines and costs assessed if the person is unable to pay; requires a court to hold a hearing before the issuance of a capias pro fine for the defendant’s failure to satisfy the judgement; increases the amount of credit provided to defendants who serve jail time or perform community service in order to satisfy the assessed fine and costs; expands the types of organizations where a defendant can perform community service in lieu of payment; and allows a court to waive the Scofflaw and OmniBase fees under certain circumstances, among many other provisions. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 2386 by Bailes. Relating to volunteer firefighter supervision of outdoor burning of waste consisting of plant growth. Allows volunteer firefighters, acting within the scope of their duties, to supervise controlled burns. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 527 by Birdwell. Relating to a defendant's payment of costs associated with a court-appointed counsel. Authorizes a judge to order a defendant who did not have the resources to reimburse a county for all the costs of court-appointed counsel at the time of sentencing to pay any unpaid portion the judge determines the defendant is able to pay at any time during a defendant’s sentence or term of probation. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 1214 by Perry. Relating to a succession plan for a regional public defender's office that primarily handles capital cases. Authorizes the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to establish a succession plan for the Regional Public Defender Office for Capital Cases. The succession plan may authorize the Commission to designate a governmental entity to administer the office and may require the office to comply with rules adopted by the Commission for the administration of the office. Effective 6/12/2017.
SB 2053 by West. Relating to the distribution of the consolidated court cost. Redirects some of the revenue from the consolidated court cost to the Fair Defense Account which funds indigent defense. The bill is aimed at addressing a recent Court of Criminal Appeals decision, Salinas v. State, which found the allocations to two specific accounts unconstitutional since they did not fund criminal justice purposes. While the Texas Indigent Defense Commission was not provided with the authority to spend the approximately $16 million a year in additional funds the law would provide, the bill sets the framework for possible additional indigent defense funds in future years. Effective 6/15/2017.
SB 239 by Campbell. Relating to a parent's right to view the body of a deceased child before an autopsy is performed. Allows a parent to view the body of a deceased child before a justice of the peace or medical examiner has assumed control over the body subject to certain stipulations. The viewing of a body that is subject to an inquest must be with the consent of law enforcement in certain circumstances, or with the consent of a physician, registered nurse, or licensed vocational nurse or the justice of the peace or medical examiner or a person acting on behalf of the justice of the peace or medical examiner.
Prohibits a parent from having contact with the child’s body unless the justice of the peace or medical examiner, or a person acting on their behalf, gives consent for them to do so. Additionally, a person is not entitled to compensation for performing duties on behalf of a justice of the peace or medical examiner under the new provisions of the law unless the commissioners court of the applicable county approves the compensation. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 799 by Murr. Relating to the persons authorized to conduct an inquest in certain counties. Allows a death inquest to be conducted by a justice of the peace from a county outside of the county where the death occurred. In a county without a medical examiner, the bill authorizes a justice of the peace in a precinct in which a death occurred or the county judge to request a justice of the peace of another county to conduct an inquest if the justice of the peace or county judge of the county where the death occurred is unavailable. A justice of the peace who conducts the inquest must transfer all information related to the inquest to the justice of the peace in the precinct where the death occurred. The justice of the peace who conducts the inquest is not entitled to any compensation, other than mileage, from the commissioners court of the county where the death occurred. Effective 9/1/2017.
SB 1849 by Whitmire. Relating to interactions between law enforcement and individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses, to the confinement, conviction, or release of those individuals, and to grants supporting populations that are more likely to interact frequently with law enforcement. A comprehensive criminal justice bill, SB 1849 has three primary components: mental health collaborative projects, county jail reforms for high risk inmates and law enforcement encounters.
Among other requirements, a magistrate is to be informed within 12 hours after a defendant is identified of having a mental illness instead of within 72 hours; law enforcement agencies are required to have policies for diverting certain populations from the justice system when appropriate and work closely with available community collaborative projects which will receive funding from the Department of State Health Services. County jailers will undergo an additional 8 hours of mental health training and Jail Administrators will be required to take an exam relating to mandatory minimum jail standards. County jails will be required to submit to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) increased data regarding serious incidents in the jail. TCJS will also develop standards for continuity of medication, improving safety of inmates through the use of tele-health and tele-mental health technology, and requiring electronic sensors for high risk cells.
A prisoner safety fund will be created and appropriated only to the TCJS for funding capital improvements as required in the bill to ensure inmate safety. Law enforcement officers will undergo an additional 40 hours of de-escalation training for situations involving encounters with the mentally ill, as well as basic certification training in de-escalation techniques and use of force for dealing the general public. Increased data collection at traffic stops will be required to be reviewed to determine if improvements can be made in the agency; fines will increase for failure to submit racial profiling data and traffic tickets will be required to include contact information for compliments or complaints. Effective 9/1/2017, except Section 4.03 takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.
SB 4 by Perry. Relating to the enforcement by campus police departments and certain local governmental entities of state and federal laws governing immigration and to related duties and liability of certain persons in the criminal justice system; providing a civil penalty; creating a criminal offense. Dubbed “sanctuary cities”, this bill is a prohibition measure against local government sanctuary policies for undocumented persons with criminal charges or convictions. It prohibits a local entity (defined to include the governing body of a county, an officer or employee of a division or department that is part of a county, including a sheriff or county attorney, and a district attorney) from: adopting, enforcing, or endorsing a policy prohibiting or materially limiting the enforcement of immigration laws; as demonstrated by pattern or practice, prohibiting or materially limiting the enforcement of immigration laws; or for an entity that is a law enforcement agency, as demonstrated by pattern or practice, intentionally failing to honor and fulfill immigration detainer requests.
It includes the authority to question a person about their immigration status upon lawful detention, not just after arrest; the authority of a court to enter a judgment and remove a person from office for allowing sanctuary policies; provides that a sheriff, constable, or person with primary authority for administering a jail commits a Class A misdemeanor (designated as a misdemeanor involving official misconduct) if the person knowingly fails to comply with an immigration detainer request; authorizes the attorney general to file a petition for a writ of mandamus or apply for other appropriate equitable relief if presented with evidence establishing probable grounds that a person violates this law; and subjects a local entity to a civil penalty if a court finds that the entity has intentionally violated this law.
A local entity may, however, prohibit persons who are employed by or under the direction of the entity from assisting or cooperating with a federal immigration officer if the assistance or cooperation occurs at a place of worship; also, the bill does not apply to community centers, local mental health authorities, the public health department of a local entity or a federally qualified health center. The Governor’s Criminal Justice Division is required to establish and administer a competitive grant program to provide financial assistance to local entities to offset costs related to enforcing immigration laws or complying with, honoring, or fulfilling immigration detainer requests. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 10 by Price. Relating to access to and benefits for mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Designates an ombudsman at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to address complaints regarding mental health and behavioral health access to care; creates a mental health and substance abuse stakeholder work group to enforce mental health parity; and requires the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) and HHSC to gather data regarding the denial rate of mental health and substance abuse services compared to those of medical and surgical services. Effective 9/1/2017.
HB 13 by Price. Relating to the creation of a matching grant program to support community mental health programs for individuals experiencing mental illness and the coordination of certain behavioral health grants. Requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to establish a matching grant program for the purpose of supporting community mental health programs providing services and treatment to individuals experiencin