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Senate Committee on Criminal Justice - 81st R.S. (2009)

Committee Members
John Whitmire, Chair
Joan Huffman, Vice Chair
Kel Seliger, Vice Chair
John Carona
Rodney Ellis
Glenn Hegar
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa
Dan Patrick
Charges
• Study the efficiency and fairness of the current sexual offender registry system and make recommendations to improve the system, if necessary. Study the issue of compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, focusing on the associated costs to the state and the punishment of juveniles. Examine the risk assessment tools used to measure the likelihood of recidivism of sexual predators.
• Review statistics regarding the crime of driving while intoxicated, including accident statistics, alcohol-related deaths and injury, and other impacts on the community. Examine enforcement options used nationwide to deter driving under the influence and make recommendations to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents in Texas.
• Review the performance of the Fair Defense Act and the Task Force on Indigent Defense. Study key outcomes of the law, including: appointment rates in felony and misdemeanor cases; state and county indigent defense expenditures; attorney caseloads; attorney compensation; access to investigators and experts; and overall quality of counsel for the indigent. Examine the Task Force on Indigent Defense's effectiveness in monitoring and enforcing standards and design strategies to improve the delivery of services for indigent defense, including timing of the appointment of counsel, the use of the appointment wheel and the monitoring of workloads and performance of attorneys.
• Study and make recommendations related to municipal jails and other detention facilities that operate without state agency oversight. Identify the number of such facilities and the population detained, as well as best practices for municipal jails. Make recommendations to improve services and consider options for oversight of facilities by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
• Review the detention of juvenile offenders in local jails, state jails, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units by examining conditions of confinement, including quality of education, mental health treatment and medical services, rehabilitative treatment, and equality of access to services for young female inmates. Review access to administrative and inspector general grievances in TDCJ facilities. Make recommendations for improving the system and reduce recidivism of juvenile offenders.
• Study and make recommendations to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of testing done in Texas forensic laboratories, including DNA and blood/alcohol testing. Assess and make recommendations for improving the capacity of Texas criminal laboratories to process evidence, identify ways to reduce the backlog of DNA evidence processing, identify ways to encourage qualified applicants for crime lab jobs, ensure adequate training for new crime lab technicians, ensure the availability of efficient crime lab processing to all regions of the state, and determine the impact of additional collection requirements on the capacity of Texas crime labs to process evidence. Consider the costs and benefits of creating a statewide crime lab.
• Assess how the Commission on Jail Standards, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Criminal Justice, and Department of State Health Services are working together to identify defendants with mental health issues, notify magistrates when defendants have been identified and, where appropriate, provide crisis stabilization services to defendants. Monitor legislation passed by the 81st Legislature for mental illness and make recommendations for any needed improvements to improve mental health services and reduce recidivism.
• Study and evaluate the success of juvenile probation pilot programs aimed at community-based diversion of youth from Texas Youth Commission facilities. Make recommendations for needed legislative action and additional programs to increase the number of delinquent youth successfully rehabilitated in their home communities.
• Consider the impact that secondary education school disciplinary laws and policies have on the juvenile justice system and the adult prison system. Recommend changes, if needed, to current law.
• Evaluate the usage of current Texas practices for facilitating the fair and accurate courtroom testimony of children and reducing the trauma associated with testifying, particularly for children who are victims of sexual abuse. Specifically consider recent efforts and trends across the nation to develop best practices, including "court orientation" programs, and ensure that courtrooms are more child friendly and accommodating for young victims to reduce the trauma associated with testifying in court while ensuring that fair and accurate information is solicited from the child as a witness.
• Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, 81st Legislature, Regular and Called Sessions, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation.
  • Study the impact of certain provisions in the 2009 DPS Sunset bill on the timely processing of concealed handgun license applications and the issuance of licenses.
  • Monitor and make recommendations, if needed, on actions by TDCJ to improve security and reduce contraband.

Note:
Senator Seliger, Vice Chair, 1/30/2009-7/14/2010. Senator Huffman appointed Vice Chair, 7/14/2010 (Press release, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, 7/14/2010).

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