The 85th Texas Legislature gaveled into session this week in Austin after a year and a half break, and lawmakers have their work cut out for them. More than 1300 bills have already been filed and more are coming. In an effort to cut through all that red tape, we’re breaking it down and hitting the high points. Here are five fast facts about the 85th Texas Legislature, including criminal justice-related bills to watch.
Fast Facts about the 85th Texas Legislature
- Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was unanimously re-elected to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Straus, who has held the position since 2009, is now tied with Gib Lewis and Pete Laney for the longest serving Speaker of the House.
- There are 181 Texas legislators – 150 in the House and 31 in the Senate. According to the Texas Tribune, most lawmakers are white, middle-aged men. There is a 46-year age difference between the youngest and oldest members of the legislature.
- State legislators get paid meager salaries. Their annual pay is $7,200 per year, plus a per diem of $190 for every day the legislature is in session. Most lawmakers have “regular” jobs ranging from a general contractor to an emergency room physician. One in three lawmakers is an attorney.
- The Texas legislature meets once every two years on odd-numbered years. The legislative session lasts a maximum of 140 days, or about five months. It began at noon on January 10 and the final gavel will drop on Memorial Day. However, the governor has the authority to call a special session when necessary.
- Despite all the bills that have been filed, the only bill that the legislature is required to pass is the two-year state budget. Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that lawmakers will have $104.9 billion to work with to craft the 2018-2019 budget, which is a 7 percent decrease from two years ago.
Criminal Justice Bills to Watch in the 85th Texas Legislature
With hundreds of bills on the table, it is hard to predict which ones have a shot of making it through the legislative process. Here’s a look at some criminal justice-related bills expected to garner attention:
- House Bill 306/ Senate Bill 179, also known as “David’s Law,” would make it a misdemeanor to bully or harass minors online or through text messages or social media. (State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio)/ Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio).
- Senate Bill 31/House Bill 62, also known as the Alex Brown Memorial Act or Distracted Driving Bill, proposes that motorists who use a wireless device while driving be charged with a criminal offense. (State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo)/ State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland)
- Senate Bill 69 would make leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle in dangerous conditions, such as extreme heat, a Class A misdemeanor. (State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo).
- House Bill 64 would abolish the death penalty completely. (State Rep. Howard Dutton Jr., D- Houston.)
- Senate Bill 108 would subject undocumented immigrants who commit a felony to elevated punishment. Those who commit first-degree felonies would face life in prison without parole. (State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood).
- HB 81 would replace possible arrests and jail time with a civil fine for low-level possession of marijuana. (State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso)
- Senate Bill 6, also known as the Texas Privacy Act or “Bathroom Bill, would prohibit trans people from using the bathroom for their gender identity in schools and other public buildings. (Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham)
- House Bill 133 would make powdered alcohol an “alcoholic beverage.” (State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston)
- Senate Bill 271 would eliminate most arrests for Class C misdemeanors, including traffic violations that are punishable by a fine only. (State Sen. Konnie Burton, R-Colleyville.)
- Senate Bill 380 would prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless there is a conviction. (State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville). Note: Varghese Summersett Partner Steve Jumes was invited by Sen. Burton last year to testify about civil asset forfeiture reform during a Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing at the state capitol.
The attorneys at Varghese Summersett will work to stay on top of important bills that may impact the laws and penalties in the state of Texas and keep you informed. If you feel passionately about proposed legislation, we encourage you to contact your legislators and get involved.