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May 26, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Senate Approves Agreement
on Retarded Execution Ban

AUSTIN - A compromise proposal to ban the execution of mentally retarded killers won Senate approval today.

The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 236 would make a life sentence the maximum punishment for a capital offense if the person convicted is found to be mentally retarded.

Earlier this month, the Senate and House were unable to agree on the bill, sending it to a conference committee to negotiate the differences. Conference committees are comprised of members of both chambers.

The House also approved the conference committee report on CSHB 236 today. The compromise bill will be sent to the governor.

Two options are available under the CSHB 236 compromise proposal.

Under the first option, the defense can ask that the jury decide during the punishment phase of a trial if the defendant is mentally retarded. If the jury determines the person is mentally retarded, then the court will sentence the person to life imprisonment.

If the jury decides that the person is not mentally retarded, the defense has a second option of asking for a judicial hearing on the issue. If the person is determined to be mentally retarded in the hearing, the maximum sentence is reduced to life in prison.

The determination of mental retardation is based on three factors: significantly below-average intellectual functioning, deficits in adaptive learning and onset before maturity.

"This is an historic day for Texas," said Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, the sponsor of CSHB 236. "This legislation is a major step forward that proves we can be tough on crime and still have compassionate justice, even in the wild, wild west."

Earlier today, Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins announced that the conference committee formed to negotiate the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 6, legislation that deals with the establishment and operation of open-enrollment charter schools, had forged a compromise.

Charter schools are public schools that are paid for with state funds, but are operated by private companies under a contract, or charter, with the state.

Some of the schools have been plagued with mismanagement, financial problems and low performance.

As originally passed by the House, the bill would have placed a moratorium on new charter schools. The compromise would only limit the growth of charter schools, but would also implement new financial controls and regulations.

Bivins said the compromise gives the education commissioner the necessary tools to "crack down on (the) bad actors" who are improperly operating charter schools.

"What has driven a lot of the attention of this issue, most unfortunately, is that there are a handful of very bad actors, of criminals, that are actually operating charter schools," Bivins said. "We, in this legislation, believe we have given the commissioner the power to yank their chains, to be able to hold them accountable."

The compromise legislation will be eligible for consideration by the Senate and House 24 hours after it is signed and distributed. It will be eligible for consideration on Sunday.

The Senate stands adjourned until 1 p.m. Sunday.

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