Is Debbie Riddle 'Color Blind' or Just Blind?

Riddle doesn't understand the point of HB 789 provisions

Rep. Debbie Riddle
Rep. Debbie Riddle

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, got a tad self-righteous this morning in the House Criminal Jurisprudence subcommittee on criminal procedure, confronting a witness from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition about whether it was appropriate in a "color blind" society to consider the impact of criminal justice policy on racial and ethnic minority populations.

The bill under consideration, House Bill 789, by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would require a criminal justice policy impact statement be prepared for "each bill or resolution that authorizes or requires a change in the sanctions applicable to adults convicted of a felony," to include the estimated number of cases each year that would be effected, the impact a bill would have on correctional facilities, and "the impact of the legislation on major racial and ethnic minority groups." The bill, says a staffer, is just a simple way to provide additional and more complete information to lawmakers about the potential impact of proposed legislation.

Of course, to hear Riddle complain about it, one might think the bill proposed letting criminals run free based on race (not that such a thing doesn't happen now, mind you). In commenting on the bill this morning, Riddle suggested that requiring an impact statement to detail possible effects on minority populations was somehow a step backward in time, to a land where people weren't so, um, blind. "If an individual is going to do harm to another person or to their property, what does color have to do with it?" she asked. Sometimes consequences are unintended, the witness replied. "No, no, no, no. You're not answering the question," Riddle replied. "It has an impact because if there are more individuals of a particular race committing that crime that has nothing to do with the bill," Riddle said. So if we have more "green people" committing a crime than we have "purple people," does that mean we don't punish people actually committing the crime, Riddle asked. No, the witness replied, but, again, there are sometimes consequences of bills that are unintended. But Riddle wouldn't let it go: "I thought that in this nation we were supposed to be color blind. Are you suggesting that we go back to not being color blind?" she asked. "Lady Justice wears a blindfold for a reason."

Occasionally, Lady Justice is simply blind to reality, and to common sense -- but there's no reason that lawmakers should be too. (To his credit, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, chair of the subcommittee, reined things back in, by saying that sometimes crimes are pursued more zealously against particular racial groups and that part of the point in Thompson's bill is to find a way to eliminate such abuses.)

Of course this is hardly the first (and undoubtedly won't be the last) time that Riddle has come off sounding, at best, insensitive -- and the notion that Riddle's main concern is about maintaining a color-blind society is questionable. Indeed, when questions about cutting back on health care funding as a way to ease the state's budget woes came up in a 2003 meeting of the Border and International Affairs Committee, Riddle demonstrated perfectly her "color blind" perspective. Explaining herself to the El Paso Times, Riddle wondered who came up with the notion that everyone deserves equal treatment: "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever," she said. "It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it's cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It's not a tender heart. It's ripping the heart out of this country."

Thompson's bill was left pending.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Legislature, 81st Legislature, Crime, Courts, HB 789, Debbie Riddle

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