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House Interim Committee on Public Safety

Charge

Study procedures for assets seized during arrest, including the authority and jurisdiction of the county sheriff, chief of police, and the DPS; and the relationship between those offices and respective county, city, and state governing entities.
Background

In 1989, the state's forfeiture laws were rewritten in Chapter 59, Code of Criminal Procedure. Property forfeiture is administered by the district attorney, and forfeited property is divided pursuant to a local agreement between the prosecutor's office and the law enforcement agencies. The proceeds of forfeited property are usually divided between the district attorney and the law enforcement agencies responsible for the seizure to be used for "official purposes."
Recommendations

  • Require that an annual audit be performed to account for seizures, forfeitures, and specific expenditures made from the proceeds of seizures and forfeitures.

  • Allow law enforcement agencies or attorneys representing the state to use proceeds from forfeitures to contract with and pay an appropriate entity to prepare the annual audit.

  • Require the audit reports to be forwarded to the Comptroller of Public Accounts.

  • Enhance penalties for the counterfeiting of official state documents.
    Charge

    Study the Harris County contract deputy program.
    Background

    Established in 1970, the contract deputy program is a unique law enforcement concept found only in the Houston area. The program was originally conceived as a temporary solution to a lack of law enforcement in unincorporated areas of Harris County, but as Houston grew, the commissioner's court expanded the program as a less costly way of providing law enforcement. Over time, the contract deputy program has become an entrenched law-enforcement system. However, the state attorney general has declared the program unconstitutional in three separate opinions, and the Harris County auditor has indicated that the cost of putting contract deputies on the street is considerably more than the county had estimated.
    Recommendations

  • Review the contract deputy program during the 75th Legislature.
    Charge

    Study water safety laws for revisions that may be necessary to enhance protection of the public.
    Background

    The Texas Water Safety Act, initially passed by the 56th Legislature in 1959, gave the Texas Highway Department authority for administrative and registration responsibilities, and made all peace officers responsible for enforcing the Act's provisions. In 1965, game wardens were given authority to enforce the Water Safety Act, and in 1969, the 61st Legislature transferred all powers, duties, and authority originally vested in the Highway Department to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
    Recommendations

  • Mandate education for violators of the Water Safety Act and for vessel operators born after September 1, 1984.

  • Establish more stringent requirements and guidelines for operation of personal and rental water vessels.

  • Establish better enforcement and reporting procedures.
    Charge

    Conduct active oversight of programs and agencies under the committee's jurisdiction, including implementation of S.B. 60 and H.B. 713.
    Background

    The focus of the committee's interim study was the Department of Public Safety's implementation of S.B. 60 and H.B. 713, which allow the carrying of concealed weapons. The committee found that when DPS began accepting applications for concealed weapons in September 1995, there was not a license production system in place. An unexpectedly large number of individuals submitted applications, creating a backlog.

    Although the backlog has been cleared, the initial rush created a "ripple effect" in the DPS licensing scheme. Resolution of a block of applications has been delayed more than 90 days because of potentially disqualifying factors: (1) outstanding dispositions on arrests; and (2) delinquencies in taxes, student loan, or child support payments.
    Recommendations

  • Review the list of places where permit holders are prohibited from carrying a weapon.

  • Authorize DPS to develop reciprocal license agreements with other states that have concealed handgun license programs.

  • Require applicants to make an application for a concealed handgun license within six months of successfully completing their handgun training course.