Bill of the Week: In Memory of Sandra Bland

An effort to ensure in-custody deaths like hers don't happen again

Bill of the Week

House Bill 2702, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston

"If these policies would have been in place, there is good reason to believe Sandra Bland would still be alive." – Rep. Garnet Coleman

The ultimate goal of the Sandra Bland Act is to prevent what happened to the young woman who was wrongly arrested in Waller County after an arbitrary traffic stop that triggered an officer-escalated dispute – and was found dead in her jail cell three days later, an apparent suicide. Rep. Coleman's response is an omnibus bill that addresses both arrest procedures and jail processes, with several major components that resulted from interim committee hearings, among them:

• Strengthening racial profiling regulations, and self-reporting of police agencies

• Outlawing "pretext" stops (traffic stops as a cover for other reasons) and searches based only on consent (without warrants); doing away with arrests for fine-only offenses

• Better monitoring and data collection on jailhouse injuries and deaths, including investigation of deaths by an outside agency

• Better training for officers in de-escalation approaches with public

• Tighter regulations on jail procedures, especially concerning mental health issues, and better access to mental health care

It's an ambitious 55-page litany of needed reforms, and at press time a companion to HB 2702 had not been filed in the Senate. Some of the provisions – more resources for jails and better training for officers – will likely gather widespread support, but other proposals (e.g., limits on officer discretion during traffic stops) have already elicited opposition. The bill represents first steps toward major criminal justice reforms that would protect all Texans from the fate of Sandra Bland.

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Sandra Bland, Garnet Coleman, 85th Lege

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