SENATE PASSES TYC REFORM; PRIVATE TOLL ROAD MORATORIUM
|The Senate approved a measure by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols to halt for two years the sale of public road projects to private entities.|
(AUSTIN) — The troubled Texas Youth Commission would face sweeping reforms under a bill passed by the Senate Thursday. A legislative investigation sparked by allegations of abuse at one west Texas facility uncovered serious problems at other TYC facilities as well, including retributive extension of sentences and the ignoring of grievances. The bill passed Thursday could serve as a national model for agency reform, said bill author Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. "We put checks and balances in the system, a lot of transparency, a lot of accountability, to the point that this could serve as a model for the rest of the country on how to restructure an agency that's gone bad," he said.
The bill begins with a complete restructuring of the administrative and accountability staffs at the TYC. An office of Inspector General would be created to police the agency and investigate allegations of wrong doing. The bill would establish an ombudsman to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of services offered to inmates, as well as manage complaints from parents and youths within TYC. A parent's Bill of Rights would also be created, to keep parents informed about policies and grievance procedures, and sentences could only be extended following approval of a specially created review board.
The bill requires that juvenile corrections officers at TYC receive a minimum of 300 hours of training, up from the 30-40 hours they get now, and would disqualify anyone with a felony record. Under current statute, corrections officers can only be fired for cause, and this bill would classify TYC employees as "at-will", making it easier to fire poor performing employees. Corrections officers would also have to be at least three years older than the inmates they guard.
One of the major provisions in the bill would keep misdemeanor juvenile offenders out of TYC and house them closer to home. To accomplish this, the bill includes $47 million for 600 new beds for regional juvenile detention centers. Hinojosa said that youths who commit relatively minor crimes are better served close to home. "They're better off staying back home, so they can receive support from their families, and from their own communities," he said.
|Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa describes reforms in his bill to restructure the Texas Youth Commission.|
The bill now heads to the House for further consideration.
The Senate also passed a bill on Thursday to halt for two years the sale of public road projects to private firms for operation and management. Senate Bill 1267, by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols, would create a legislative study commission to look at the impact of public/private comprehensive development agreements on public transportation. This session, a growing number of legislators have expressed dissatisfaction with the Texas Department of Transportation's recent policy of selling public projects to private entities under agreements that could not be broken or even modified for 50 years o more. Nichols said the state needs to take a closer look at how these agreements will impact transportation in Texas before moving forward. "I believe these provisions need to be carefully reviewed by the public, all entities impacted, as well as the legislature, before many contracts are signed for half a century or longer," he said
The bill exempts certain projects in El Paso, Dallas, and Fort Worth.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 23, at 1:30 p.m.