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March 13, 2007 (512) 463-0300

COMMITTEE APPROVES MEASURE TO FIRE TYC BOARD

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott testify before a meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee about a bill that would increase penalties against sex offenses against children. At the dais (L-to-R) are Senators John Carona, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and Chair John Whitmire.

(AUSTIN) -- The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted Tuesday abolish the current board of the Texas Youth Commission. At a meeting of a joint committee charged with fixing the TYC last week, House and Senate Members gave a unanimous vote of no confidence in the current board members, due to mismanagement of the agency. Though that vote had no legal authority to remove the board members, the bill passed Tuesday, if passed by both houses with at least two-thirds vote, could remove the board in a short time.

Senator Chris Harris, who authored the measure, says this bill will remove a board that maintains they did nothing wrong in spite of all the contrary evidence. "Sen. Whitmire asked them [at the TYC committee meeting] no fewer than four times to tender their resignation, and they said they had done nothing wrong, and that they had properly managed the TYC," he said. This bill would also bar the Governor from appointing any current member back to the board after it has been dissolved. The Senate would also have final say on any new appointees, as the state Constitution empowers the Senate to confirm or deny all gubernatorial appointments.

The Criminal Justice Committee also considered Texas' own version of Jessica's Law, a measure to increase penalties against sex offenders who commit crimes against children. Bill author Senator Bob Deuell of Greenville said that this bill represents a starting point for all the stakeholders to come together and craft a workable bill, but that all parties involved have the same result in mind. "Our goal is to stop sexual predators," he said. "I would rather not deal with victims and criminals, I want a bill that stops it before it starts."

The bill would mandate a 25-year minimum sentence for any person who commits an aggravated sexual offense against a child under the age of 14. These offenders would also be subject to 24-hour GPS monitoring when they get out of prison. It would make repeat offenders against children under 14 eligible for the death penalty. The bill addressed before the committee Tuesday differs from the filed bill in some ways. One specific example is the removal of the statute of limitations for sexual assault against children.

Deuell says this bill sends a clear message. "If you commit these heinous acts against our children in Texas, justice will be severe," he said.

There have been concerns expressed about certain provisions in the bill by prosecutors and victims advocates. The two main issues are, first, would a second-time sex offender who knows he will get the death penalty be more likely to kill a child to remove a possible witness. The second concern is that a law that permits the death penalty for a case not involving murder would be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Greg Abbott testified before the committee relating to these issues. Abbott called the first scenario "ludicrous", saying these criminals do not consider the consequences of their crimes in this detail. He added that a criminal who murdered a child would be more likely to get caught, convicted and executed than one who simply committed a sex crime, due to the vigor of the investigation and prosecution efforts. "What if you're wrong," asked committee Chair John Whitmire. "What if there is a smart, manipulative sex offender, and he does decide to kill the evidence?" Abbott responded that this is a purely hypothetical situation, with no good evidence to support the outcome.

As to the constitutionality of the death penalty for non-murder crimes, Abbott said the U.S. Supreme Court has never considered a case with the criteria and thresholds set out in this bill. He said that because of the confluence of facts and heinous nature of the crime, that the Court would be more likely to uphold a Texas law. Abbott added that he would personally go before the Court to argue this case if it ever faced a constitutional challenge.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 14, at 11 a.m.

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

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