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April 14, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Fighting gangs at the local level may get easier if legislation passed today becomes law. The Senate passed two bills that give local law enforcement more information and training to combat gang crime. Senate Bill(SB)1576 requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to notify local officials when the most violent gang members are released. Some asked why the agency shouldn't do that for all gang members.

The co-sponsor, Lubbock Senator Robert L. Duncan, says that could hurt more than it helps."The problem is if you get too much information going out a lot of times the bad, the worst of the worst get ignored. We want to make sure that the worst of the worst, the most threat to society are going to be on everybody's radar screen."

A companion measure, SB 1577 would require gang awareness training for parole officers who supervise gang members. These bills are part of a package to stop and punish gang activity in Texas. Lt. Governor Rick Perry says it is one of the most important packages of legislation for Texas youth. "All this together I think is sending a clear message across the state of Texas. Gangs are a cancer on the society in Texas. We are going to make every effort to cut this cancer out and to bring some social health back into communities across the state."

People with mental retardation could be exempted from the death penalty under legislation heard in the Criminal Justice Committee today. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sponsors SB 326. He says this does not mean they shouldn't be punished, but that their mental capacity should be taken into consideration during sentencing. "I think that in a state where we have over 500 people on death row, we lead the world in the number of executions, the least we can do is be humane about executing people who are mentally retarded."

But those arguing against the bill say the current law already allows juries to take those factors into consideration when deciding whether to give the death penalty.

The Senate also passed legislation allowing the General Land Office to convert natural resources owned by the state, like natural gas, into electricity, then sell it to public entities. Since only public entities like state agencies or schools could purchase the power, existing utilities' revenues should be almost unchanged. Only private, investor-owned utilities would be affected in any case. Schools would get the profits from the sale of the electricity. Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins sponsored the Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 1152.

The Senate will reconvene at tomorrow at 10.00 a.m.

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