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April 16, 2003    (512) 463-0300

Senate Approves Legislation to Protect the Rights of Death Row Inmates

Austin - Legislation aimed at ensuring that death row inmates are afforded one full and fair opportunity to have their habeas corpus and unfairness claims heard by the courts won final approval of the full Senate today. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, author of Senate Bill (SB) 1224, said that his legislation will help to ease some of the fears that Texans have about our criminal justice system. "I think it's important that we as a state do everything we can to make sure that we're protecting the rights of any defendant, particularly those defendants that have been convicted on a capital crime, and to make sure that we are protecting the innocent by ensuring that we have competent council," said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

SB 1224 moves the appointment of counsel in habeas cases to the Task Force on Indigent Defense, comprised of five members selected by the governor and eight elected officials and judges. Habeas Corpus is the only appeal in which an inmate can raise new evidence of his or her innocence and it is intended to be a "safety net" designed to catch the innocent and those treated unfairly by the system. The bill also outlines the criteria that the Task Force should consider in developing standards for lawyers eligible for appointment.

The Senate also approved a bill today that author Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini said will protect persons made vulnerable by disability, age, sickness, or disease. SB 59 would prohibit the use of life-threatening seclusion and restraints on patients in treatment facilities. Under the bill, restraints that obstruct the airway, impair breathing by putting pressure on the torso, or interfere with the ability to communicate would be not be allowed. " Someone who enters a facility to receive care and heal should not be subjected to humiliating and dangerous treatment," said Zaffirini, "Restraint or seclusion may be necessary under certain circumstances, but they should never cause harm or endanger residents."

The Senate also passed SB 51, another measure by Zaffirini, aimed at assisting in the recovery of victims of sexual assault. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to provide victims with written information about local sexual assault services that are available if the local rape crisis centers provide the written materials.

Legislation introduced by San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte relating to carbon monoxide detectors was also approved. SB 100 would require day-cares, group day-care homes, and family homes to have carbon monoxide detectors which meet requirements relating to their placement, installation, number, and maintenance set by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. Van de Putte estimated the necessary expense to the homes be around $6-12 dollars per detector.

Houston Senator John Whitmire proposed legislation to protect against neglect of the young, elderly, and disabled, which was ratified by the Senate. Under SB 827, it would become a criminal offense for a person to abandon or endanger a child, an elderly individual, or a disabled individual.

The Senate also approved of the following legislation:

Senator Kyle Janek
Senator Kyle Janek sponsors SB 249, dealing with ferry access from the Bolivar Peninsula.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 22, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.