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August 24, 2006     (512) 463-0300

SENATE COMMITTEES CONTINUE WORK ON INTERIM CHARGES

Members of the Jurisprudence Committee hear a presentation about the benefits of electronic court recording.

As part of its interim charges, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, chaired by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, considered today allowing state and local courts to record proceedings through digital media, as opposed to the traditional short-hand court reporter. Proponents of electronic recording do not want to mandate its use throughout the state, but rather want to change the statute to permit courts and county commissions to determine which kind of recording fits their area best.

Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland testified that a move to electronic recording could save his county millions. He said that the county expects to spend nearly five million dollars on court reporter salaries and related costs over the next five years. According to Hoagland, there are two statutes on the books that prevent judges from using their own discretion when it comes to recording proceedings in their courtroom. The first is a law passed in 1911 that requires a judge to appoint a court reporter for his court, and the second requires a court reporter to read back past proceedings in court if requested. Minor changes in these laws, said Hoagland, will give the courts the latitude they need in moving to a more suitable recording system.

Judge John Delaney said the current system is a "legal monopoly" legislated by the state that gives preference to one kind of technology over another. Delaney began experimenting with electronic recording in his court in 1989, and said that he found it to be reliable and effective. The state, he said, should end this preference of court reporters over electronic recording and give judges the ability to choose.

Other witnesses were not so optimistic about electronic recording. Representatives of the Texas Court Reporters Association testified that a living, breathing court reporter will always have advantages over a machine when it comes to handling court records. One big advantage, testified one witness, is that a person can be held accountable for inconsistencies or other problems with a court record, and that no such accountability can exist for an electronic recording system.

District Court Judge Richard Davis testified against the use of electronic recording. He said that most lawyers are against the changeover, and that technical problems with recording equipment can lead to violation of due process standards, and even conviction reversals in cases where electronic records are lost.

Waco Senator Kip Averitt (left) comments from the dais at a Subcommittee on Higher Education Meeting, while committee Chairman Royce West looks on.

The Subcommittee on Higher Education, chaired by Senator Royce West of Dallas, heard testimony related to its interim charge of evaluating the teacher certification system in Texas.

Texas Higher Education Board Commissioner Raymond Paredes said that recent studies show that teacher quality may be the most important determinant of student success in elementary and secondary schools. The best teachers, he said, are adaptable, committed to continuing education, are masters of their own subjects, and respect the diverse backgrounds from which their students come.

Paredes had several recommendations on how to improve the teacher certification system in Texas. He feels state must train teachers as scholars, who continue to research the best ways to teach students, relying on the latest studies, throughout their careers. Texas must also bring master teachers and administrators into the certification program, both as instructors and curriculum designers. Experts in ethnic studies need to participate also, to increase diversity awareness among teacher candidates. Finally, Paredes said, teacher candidates need instruction in cognitive science in order to understand how the human brain learns, and different levels of development affect learning.

Senator Judith Zaffirini noted that these recommendations are similar to ones she has heard of for many years, and asked Paredes why none of them have yet been adopted. He replied that if the data itself is not compelling enough, he was unsure what to do to convince lawmakers. Chairman West tasked Paredes with putting together a panel to work out how to convince lawmakers of the importance and efficacy of these recommendations.

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

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