Texas Lege Stands Still on Justice Reform
But God forbid we take your guns away
The Lege's failure to relax legal penalties on cannabis possession reflected its general hideboundness on criminal justice reform, even as President Trump, the TPPF, and other conservatives have embraced (or at least want credit for) common-sense changes with broad support. As one example, reformers from both parties tried until the last hours of the session to limit arrests for misdemeanors that are only punished in the Penal Code by a fine – such as the moving violation for which Sandra Bland was brought to the Waller County jail where she died in 2015 – only to be thwarted by implacable opposition from police unions and Senate conservatives. Similarly, measures to reduce the onerous burden of cash bail (found unconstitutional by federal judges in Dallas and Houston) and to restrict the death penalty for defendants with intellectual disabilities or severe mental illness (as in the cases of Texas death row inmates Bobby Moore and Scott Panetti, respectively) faltered before Monday's finish line.
Here as elsewhere, though, was good news to be seen. Long-overdue measures to make it easier for Texans with criminal convictions to obtain occupational licenses from the state; to finally abolish the failed Driver Responsibility Program that's taken away the driver's licenses of more than a million Texans for the crime of being poor; and to improve the treatment of women at many points within the criminal justice system (from pretrial diversion for prostitution to helping mothers with postpartum opioid disorders) all made it to Gov. Abbott's desk.
Of course, it wouldn't be the Texas Legislature without some jaw-dropping gymnastics to appease the state's excitable gun owners. While the push for no-permit "constitutional carry" got derailed by its own advocates' threatening behavior toward Speaker Bonnen and other lawmakers, the Senate did find time in the waning hours of the session to make it legal for gun holders to open-carry without a license in the week following a natural disaster declaration. Though the bill's Senate sponsor, Brandon Creighton, bewailed the heartlessness of asking disaster victims to "make another sacrifice" and put down their weapons when all hell has broken loose, three of his GOP colleagues could not abide this foolishness and joined the Dems in opposition, which still allowed the bill to squeak through by one vote.