WEEK IN REVIEW: JESSICA'S LAW, HPV STOP PASS SENATE
(AUSTIN) — The Senate this week passed one of the Lt. Governor's priority bills, creating Texas' own version of Florida's Jessica's Law. This bill increases penalties against those who commit sex offenses against children, including allowing the death penalty for repeat egregious offenders. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has made this bill, HB 8, one of his top issues this session, and said its passage Tuesday should act as a deterrent for would-be sex offenders. "This bill sends a message: don't mess with our kids in Texas," he said.
HB 8, sponsored by Greenville Senator Robert Deuell, would create a minimum sentence of 25 years for anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Anyone who commits this offense a second time could face capital punishment. Deuell said the application of the death penalty in this bill is extremely limited and only for the worst criminals. "It's for very specific, egregious crimes, that I think just about anyone who would support the death penalty would agree is appropriate," he said.
As an aid to prosecutors, Deuell said this bill will create a new kind of sexual offense, called "continuous abuse of a child". Under this statute, someone that commits a sexual offense against a child more than once in 30 days would face 25 years for the first conviction, and life without parole for the second. The bill also stiffens penalties for child pornography, requiring offenders to serve at least half of their sentence and eliminates credit for good behavior.
Prisons would be required to provide those convicted of sex crimes against children with psychological counseling during incarcerations, and would mandate 24-hour GPS monitoring for those offenders on parole. The bill also provides for the state Attorney General to aid smaller jurisdictions in the investigation and prosecution of sex offenders.
Deuell said the focus of this bill isn't punishment, it's prevention. He hopes the penalties laid out in this bill will make would-be sex offenders think twice. "I'm a family physician, I want to practice preventative medicine," he said. "So it would be good to have legislation that potential predators would look at and think, 'it's not worth it.'"
Monday, the Senate passed a bill that would effectively cancel Governor Rick Perry's January mandate that added the HPV vaccine to the list of required school vaccinations. This order, which would have required all 6th grade girls to be inoculated against the virus implicated in a majority of cervical cancer cases, sparked a vigorous debate in the Legislature about the balance of power between the state's executive and legislative branches. Monday's bill, by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar, would prohibit any order or law making HPV a required vaccine for four years. He said there are too many unanswered questions about the vaccine, its effectiveness, and the company that makes it. Hegar added that it is the Legislature's job, not the Governor's, to set vaccination policy for public schools. "We're trying to give us a resting period where we as a Legislature have a voice, and we get to decide what vaccines are mandated in the state of Texas, and which are not," he said.
Other bills passed by the Senate this week include:
- SB 518, by Ellis, increases the death benefits for Texas National Guard Members who die during combat or training from $21,000 to $200,000;
- SB 338, by Van de Putte, requires houses built or sold after Jan. 1, 2008 to be equipped with smoke detectors;
- SB 1447, by Duncan, broadens the ability of the Teachers' Retirement System to invest;
- SB 23, by Nelson, creates the TexLink system to connect Texans with health insurance information in an effort to increase coverage among the uninsured.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 30, at 1:30 p.m.