Crime reform bills are again prominent in the upcoming legislative agenda in Texas. It remains to be seen how many proposals will eventually become law.
The Texas District & County Attorneys Association, an advocacy group for prosecutors, recently noted of about 800 bills already filed ahead of the 2021 legislative session in Texas, 33 would create new crimes and 17 increase the punishment for crimes already on the statute books.
Criminal justice will take the driving seat in Austin when legislators return in January. The George Floyd Act, proposed by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and Sen. Royce West, prohibits chokeholds and requires police officers to step into a situation when excessive force is used by another officer, reported KXAN.
The news report noted Texas already has over 2,000 criminal offenses. Many of the bills are unlikely to pass. Many gun control measures filed by Democrats have little chance of success. Only 820 or over 7,000 bills submitted to the last legislative session became law.
Some criminal justice advocates support crime reform bills that focus on fewer crimes with more specific punishments.
Marc Levin, chief of policy and innovation the conservative-leaning criminal justice reform body Right on Crime, backs legislation that focuses on addressing violent crime. A spike in offenses like homicides has gripped Dallas in recent months, leading Governor Greg Abbott to call state police into the city.
State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat from Houston, told KXAN legislators take up about 25 new crime measures each session. He believes the decriminalization of marijuana will focus heavily on the forthcoming agenda. Statehouses across America are legalizing small quantities of marijuana, often on the backs of popular votes.
Wu wants to see fewer people incarcerated. “If we are no longer in love with just locking everyone up for everything, let’s make that true,” Wu told the station.
Major crime reform bills often fail in the Texas legislature. Lawmakers entered the 2019 session hopeful that they could shake up bail procedures, drug policy, and the death penalty. No major crime reforms were forthcoming.
Recently, a bipartisan group of representatives in the House joined forces to form an issue-based caucus on criminal justice reform.
Cash bail practices have been ruled unconstitutional by federal judges, but legislation to reform the system failed in 2019. A proposal to limit arrests for offenses such as minor traffic violations and theft of property valued at under $100 also fell apart.
Thompson, the co-author of the George Floyd Act, said Texas has over-criminalized society.
“I’m happy that we’re going to be able to come together and have some consensus on some issues that have plagued us for a long time,” she told the Texas Tribune.
Texas has many offenses and state courts often hand down harsh penalties. Our Dallas-based criminal defense team represents people who are charged with robbery, drug crimes, sexual assault, and a wide range of other federal and state crimes in Texas. Please call us at (214) 720-9552.