In Case You Missed It
While You Slept, the Senate Approves Innocence Commission, Post-Conviction DNA Testing, Green Jobs, and Other Vital Ellis Initiatives
In the twilight of the 81st Legislative Session, the Texas Senate approved a series of criminal justice, environmental and other important reform initiatives.
Late last night, the Senate approved HB 498 by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), which will create a modified Innocence Commission. House Bill 498 will establish an advisory panel to assist the Task Force on Indigent Defense in conducting an interim study on wrongful convictions.
The study would examine:
- the causes of wrongful convictions;
- procedures and programs to prevent further wrongful convictions;
- the effects of state law on wrongful convictions including: eyewitness identification procedures; recording of custodial interrogations; post-conviction DNA testing; and writs of habeas corpus; and
- whether the creation of an Innocence Commission would be appropriate.
Texas has more wrongful convictions than any other state in the country, with, as of today, 40 DNA exonerations proven thus far. This is likely the "tip of the iceberg," since the vast majority of cases do not involve DNA.
The high number of wrongful convictions discovered in Texas highlights the need for improvements to ensure a more effective criminal justice system.
The bill also contained an amendment to clarify Texasí post-conviction DNA statute to address issues that have arisen in a recent court decision and exoneration in Houston. Under this bill, a motion for post-conviction DNA testing would be granted if:
- the biological evidence was not previously tested; or
- the biological evidence was previously tested, but can be subjected to newer testing techniques that provide a reasonable likelihood that the results will be more accurate and probative than the previous test results.
The measure also requires the court to order any unidentified DNA profile discovered during post-conviction DNA testing to be compared with the DNA profiles in the FBIís CODIS DNA database. Such a comparison could be used to identify the actual perpetrator and exonerate the convicted.
On the economic development front, the Senate approved Ellis' Green Jobs Initiative. Added as an amendment to HB 1935, the plan establishes a Green Jobs Skills Development Fund to tap $500 million in available federal stimulus funds aid to promote job training and job creation for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building. Texas can lead the way in reducing pollution, fighting global warming, and creating jobs for the clean energy economy.
There is tremendous opportunity for economic growth in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building and retrofits, and Texas can lead the way. These jobs are dispersed throughout our state. According to the Governorís State Energy Plan, two-thirds of all energy jobs created over the next decade will be in renewable energy.
The Senate also adopted a measure to protect Texans from steep commissions on questionable and sometimes fraudulent financial products. An amendment to HB 2752 provides the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) with the ability to step in and to protect Texas consumers from abuses by the annuities industry. The legislation is the result of extensive investigation by TDI into complaints of the sales practices by the annuities industry. In its 2009 biennial report to the legislature, the agency stated that it "has received increased complaints regarding a variety of issues relating to sales of insurance products to seniors, including unsuitable annuity products."
Lastly, the Senate approved a measure to implement third trimester HIV test for pregnant women, expedited HIV testing at delivery for women with no record of a third trimester test, and HIV testing of the newborn when there is no record of a maternal third trimester or delivery testing. These changes will implement the CDC's 2006 recommendations for HIV Testing of pregnant women and certain newborns.
Current law provides mandatory opt-out HIV testing for pregnant women in the first trimester and upon delivery.
If Texas had been following these new recommendations between 2000 and 2007, there is evidence that six mother-to-child transmissions could have been prevented. These six transmissions will cost an estimated $2.3 million to treat.
"The Senate has taken a major step forward on criminal justice, on the environment and for our veterans, said Ellis. "I hope the House will do the right thing and support these initiatives to ensure we create a better Texas."