AUSTIN - The Texas Senate is concerned about what happens to sexual predators after they are released from prison. Senate members voted in favor of a compromise proposal that would keep track of sexual predators with electronic monitoring devices, rather than confining them to a special facility. These felons have been convicted of two or more sexually violent offenses and still suffer from mental problems which make them likely to become repeat offenders.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, says it is a unique kind of criminal that needs a unique brand of attention. "The status quo is unacceptable. The status quo we have today in Texas says very clearly that once they are released we never have a opportunity to see, hear or do anything about it. This bill would change that," said Shapiro.
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 29 has a much cheaper price tag and more support than the original proposal which called for confinement. Shapiro worked with Houston Senator John Whitmire on the compromise. Whitmire believes the bill will not only become law but set a precedent. "This is a significant piece of legislation that I believe Senator Shapiro has modified the concept of civil commitment that I think could be the model for the rest of the nation," said Whitmire. This legislation is the product from an interim committee during the 75th Session which was chaired by Shapiro.
Senate action today also included promoting diversity in graduate and professional schools in Texas. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos sponsored CSSB 1356, which sets guidelines to assist schools in their efforts to diversify their student bodies. Supporters argue that schools need to consider factors other than just test scores in deciding who gets in. They urged the schools to consider factors like financial need and personal background. The Legislature passed a similar bill for undergraduate admissions last session. The bills are a response to the Hopwood decision which prevents Texas schools from using race as a criteria for admission.
The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 938, the hate crimes legislation, sparked a special meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee and a visit by Renee Mullins, the daughter of the late James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, Texas. The hate crimes legislation is named for Byrd, who was the victim of a racially motivated murder last summer. Mullins described her father's brutal murder then pleaded with senators to pass the legislation. "This was not just a crime against a 49 year old African-American that was disabled but a crime against all humanity," Mullins testified.
The bill enhances the penalties for crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual preference. Supporters say the legislation is necessary because the current statute is so vague its not even being used in the prosecution of Byrd's murder. Opponents argue that what is needed is vigorous prosecution under current law. At the time of this writing, the committee is taking testimony on CSHB 938.
In other news, the Texas Senate Kids web page was launched this week in Spanish. The web page features Tio Tejas and Floralinda. The web address is www.senate.state.tx.us/hola/. The page can also be accessed from the Senate's main web page.
The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 7, at 9:00 a.m.