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Capitol Briefs

Fri., April 27, 2007

• The Texas Senate has passed a measure by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, that would increase the amount of state compensation to those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Senate Bill 262 would allow for $50,000 in compensation for each year of wrongful imprisonment or $100,000 for each year on death row. It also eliminates the $500,000 compensation cap. According to the Legislative Budget Board, the state would likely pay out more than $3 million in compensation through Aug. 31, 2009, and another $1.5 million per year thereafter. Currently, the state pays on average $985,000 per year in compensation for wrongful imprisonment, according to the comptroller. According to the New York-based nonprofit Innocence Project, nationwide 198 people have been exonerated based on post-conviction DNA testing, including 29 in Texas. Ellis noted that 38% of those exonerated are unemployed, 43% earn less money than they did before being sent to prison, and 54% are without health care. – Jordan Smith

• The House Tuesday tentatively approved a campaign finance bill, but it's less than what reform advocates wanted. The bill, by Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, clarifies how corporations can use the money they raise through their political action committees. Campaign finance watchdog groups say Berman, who chairs the House Elections Committee, should have also addressed spending limits as well as the controversy surrounding "issue ads," which are designed to promote or slam a particular political candidate without instructing voters to vote for one candidate over another. – Amy Smith

• The Texas Senate approved a defanged version of Jessica's Law on Tuesday. This was crucial to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who campaigned heavily on the theme that he would pass Jessica's Law as part of the Session of the Child. Under a compromise drafted by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, the death penalty for repeat offenders would not be mandatory but left to the discretion of the prosecutors. Other provisions include enhanced penalties for aggravated and repeated sex offenders, a mandatory 25-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, and no statute of limitations for prosecution of childhood sexual assaults. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who considers the use of the death penalty to be too liberal in Texas given the number of recent exonerations, was the lone vote against the measure. – Kimberly Reeves

• With little fanfare, the Senate passed legislation Monday to reverse Gov. Rick Perry's directive requiring girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. The ban against the mandate would expire in four years, during which time more money will be spent on providing educational info about HPV to students in public schools. The House similarly approved a bill against the vaccination mandate. It is uncertain whether Perry intends to veto the bill, but odds are that he won't. – A.S.

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