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February 13, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Senate Votes to Approve
Child Testimony Legislation

AUSTIN - The Texas Senate approved a bill on Tuesday, February 13, that would allow a witness who is younger than 13 years old to testify in a criminal case outside the presence of the defendant.

Current Texas law has no provision to allow a child witness to give testimony anywhere but in the courtroom in the presence of the accused.

Plano Sen. Florence Shapiro, the sponsor of Committee Substitute Senate Bill (CSSB) 24, said it will allow children to testify in cases where they might feel threatened by being in the presence of someone they saw commit a crime. The bill applies in serious felony cases including capital murder.

The Senate passed the bill with 29 yes votes, although Dallas Sen. Royce West voiced concerns in floor debate about a jury in a serious case not being able to see a witness testify in person.

The Senate also passed San Antonio Sen. Frank L. Madla's Senate Bill 126, dealing with the creation and funding of a program to attract and retain health care professionals in rural areas, and CSSB 25, concerning violent or habitual juvenile offenders. Shapiro also sponsored CSSB 25.

In other Senate news, the Jurisprudence Committee held a joint session with the House Civil Practices and Judicial Affairs Committees.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips addressed the joint session, giving his regular State of the Judiciary Address. Phillips concentrated on four issues: representation for indigent defendants in criminal cases, legal assistance to the poor in civil cases, foster care and adoption and "the urgent need to improve the way we select judges."

Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, a member of the Jurisprudence Committee, urged more action on the issue of indigent legal defense.

"I would just encourage you and other judges in the room, distinguished members of the Texas judiciary, to show some leadership on helping to resolve the problem (of providing defense to indigent defendants), and not just sit on the sidelines and take shots at other proposals that come up," Ellis said to Phillips.

"It's my sense that the judges want to do that," Phillips replied.

The Senate is adjourned until 11 a.m. Wednesday, February 14.

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