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January 23, 2002     (512) 463-0300

Task Force Examines Mentally Impared Offenders and Their Rights

AUSTIN -- The competency of certain criminals to stand trial is always a hot issue. During 2002, a special task force will be examining the way that state laws affect them. The Defendants Criminal Competency Task Force held its first meeting at the Senate Chamber in Austin today, January 23, 2002.

The task force is made up on sixteen citizens, including Chair Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock and Vice Chair Representative Patricia Gray of Galveston.

The task force was created by the 77th Legislature under the terms of Senate Bill 553 and will report its findings to the 78th Legislature, which convenes in January of 2003.

Today the committee began with invited testimony describing the problems the state has in dealing with juveniles with mental health or retardation issues who may have committed a crime. Vicki Spriggs of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission told the task force that the state does not have a facility dedicated to the treatment of these young people. Robert Dawson of the U.T. School of Law and Steve Robinson of the Texas Youth Commission provided other details regarding how juveniles are treated by the courts.

The task force then heard how similar issues affect adults. Brian Shannon from Texas Tech Law School, Jerry Julian of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and James Smith from the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation briefed the committee on how mentally challenged adults are treated by the court system.

Advocacy organizations including the Mental Health Association of Texas were scheduled to testify. The task force was to recess subject to call of the chair.

Earlier in the day, the Texas Water Advisory Council studied the state's water issues. Chaired by Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, the council heard from representatives of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Water Development Board, and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission on how much water will be needed across the state in the coming years.

The council is examining its role as a forum for Surface Water Authorities Self-Assessment Reports and also heard testimony regarding administrative procedures. The council recessed subject to call of the chair.

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