Senate Gives Racial Profiling Bill
AUSTIN - A bill to combat the practice of racial profiling by police won quick approval by the Texas Senate today.
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1074 would create a legal definition of racial profiling and would require law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training programs for officers. The bill would also require police to collect and report race and ethnicity statistics during traffic stops and officers' interactions with suspects.
CSSB 1074's author, Dallas Sen. Royce West, said the bill is the product of a lengthy process that has included the input of law enforcement, civil rights and legal groups.
"I wanted to bring together all of the interest groups and see if together -- let me underscore together -- we could craft a compromise bill that is reasonable to all parties," West said. "We've been working on this issue since early January, holding meetings and having ongoing discussions on basically every word in this bill."
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted CSSB 1074 out on March 14. Law enforcement representatives joined witnesses from civil rights groups in testifying in support of the bill during the hearing.
West said the most important component of the bill is installing video cameras in approximately 8,000 police cars. He added that although the camera would also be a useful law enforcement tool, the estimated $35 million cost should not be placed on local law enforcement agencies.
An amendment West sponsored was added to the bill that would delay the implementation of that part of the bill until the state identifies and allocates funds for that purpose. The other provisions of the bill are not affected by the amendment.
Although some senators had questions about the bill's financial impact on local law enforcement, CSSB 1074 was passed quickly and with little debate. Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff was among those who voted for the bill.
"I felt that it was important that not only the members of the Senate but that my office indicate that it is simply not acceptable in the state of Texas for anyone to be detained or arrested based on a racial profile," Ratliff said. "It was important enough that I break my normal procedure and cast a vote (as a member of the Senate)."
Ratliff still represents Senate District 1, but does not ordinarily vote on legislation. The only other vote he has cast this session was for CSSB 1, the General Appropriations Bill.
Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Jon Lindsay of Houston voted against CSSB 1074.
Also in today's session, the Senate unanimously voted to adopt the Committee Substitute for Senate Concurrent Resolution (CSSCR) 12, authored by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh. CSSCR 12 calls on the federal government to authorize an additional 18 federal judges for the Texas-Mexico border area to help handle the growing number of federal cases in the region.
The Senate also voted final passage of Senate Bill (SB) 450, a measure authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan. The bill would allow schools with declining enrollment numbers to receive less of a funding reduction so the districts can have more time to adjust their budgets.
SB 450 was passed with an amendment added by Duncan that delays the implementation of the bill until funding is allocated to cover its $25 million annual cost. The bill first came up for debate in Tuesday's session, but Duncan agreed to leave the bill pending until today so the amendment could be added after several senators balked at the price tag.
In other Senate news, Ratliff announced that he will travel to Washington, D.C., with House Speaker J.E. "Pete" Laney for a meeting tomorrow with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Senate Finance Committee Chair Rodney Ellis of Houston and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rob Junell of San Angelo will also attend the meeting.
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the impact of rising health care costs and increasing Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, case loads on state budgets.
"Rising medical costs are driving the state's budget," Ratliff said. "The increasing cost of health care has hit many areas of state government including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Teacher Retirement System, Employees Retirement System and Medicaid."
The Senate is recessed until 8 a.m. tomorrow when it will take up bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar. Afterward, the Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m.