COMMITTEE ON SEX OFFENDERS MEETS IN HOUSTON
HOUSTON - The Interim Committee on Sex Offenders held a public hearing on Monday, April 6, in the Houston City Council Annex Chambers. Members of the committee include Senators Florence Shapiro of Plano as chair, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and John Whitmire of Houston. State Representative Peggy Hamric of Houston joined the committee for the proceedings. This is the fourth public hearing held by this committee this interim.
The committee is examining whether Texas should implement a 'civil commitment' law for sexually violent predators. A civil commitment law would allow the state to institutionalize sexually violent predators for treatment purposes even after completion of their prison terms. Upon a showing of 'mental abnormality' and the person poses a danger to themselves or others the state could commit a person for an indefinite period until that person proves to no longer be a threat to society. The states of California, Kansas, and Washington have implemented similar laws. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the Kansas law.
Several persons testified in favor of the potential statute; representatives from Justice For All, the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, Texas Association of Sex Offender Treatment, Texas Inmate Families Association, the Attorney General's office, and the Chair of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. The most memorable testimony came from Deana Lane, a U.S. Pre-Trial Services Officer, who testified as a victim of a violent rape. She testified admirably about a terribly difficult situation; she discussed how a habitual sexual perpetrator is not easy to identify and the scores of people who, unaware of his patterns, testified on his behalf. Ms. Lane talked of the lack of counseling for these inmates; unavailable until three months ago. The impact of her testimony on the committee members was visible.
Public testimony included concerns that the cost of the treatment would further deplete the funds available for citizens currently needing mental health services, and the location of where these persons would be treated and the possibility that these populations would be mixed. Other discussions involved the possibility of further stigmatizing the use of the term 'mental' or 'mental health'. Persons testifying believe that use of certain terms will further hinder persons in need of mental health services.
The committee will hold a final public hearing in Austin on May 13. The committee will report its findings to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January of 1999.
ANNEXATION ISSUES DEBATED AT STATE CAPITOL
AUSTIN - The Senate Interim Committee on Annexation held a public hearing on Monday, April 6, at the state capitol in order to hear testimony regarding Texas annexation codes and how they affect the citizens of the state. The committee is responsible for listening to the problems and benefits that arise when a community is annexed and then make recommendations for legislative action. The committee members include Senators Frank Madla of San Antonio as chair, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Michael Galloway of The Woodlands, and Jon Lindsay of Houston.
The hearing began with invited testimony from a series of witnesses. Among those testifying included Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, Frank Sturzl who is the executive director of the Texas Municipal League, Randy Streetman from the Texas Association of Builders, and Yank Peveto.
The committee then opened the meeting to public testimony. Frustrated citizens against being annexed stated that after previously contacting their local public officials, they found they were helpless against powerful city laws already in place. They also discovered they had no voting rights regarding possible annexations of their communities. This has forced these citizens to turn to state officials hoping for legislation that will improve their situations. As one witness stated, "Laws are set up to help the cities, not the people directly affected by them".
However, not all witnesses testified against annexation. Some citizens urged legislators to speed the process of annexation in order to improve living conditions in their remote communities. Testimony given revealed that many small towns suffer from poor water resources and sewage problems.
Among the most requested action asked of the members was to allow the citizens of these communities at risk of being annexed to vote on those issues that directly affect them. As of now, only the people of the city responsible for the annexation vote and make the decisions. Witnesses characterized this situation as "unconstitutional".
This was the last of the public hearings scheduled for the Interim. The committee will gather its findings and make any necessary recommendations to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January of next year.