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Michael Haugen | June 22, 2015
Fresh on the heels of the juvenile justice reform bills he signed into law late last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott followed suit on Saturday by signing a wide variety of bills aimed at reforming much of the adult corrections system, as well.
Perhaps the most consequential is SB 1902. This bill will allow–on a first-time basis only–certain low-risk, non-violent, non-sexual ex-offenders to apply for “second chance” orders of nondisclosure (OND). As these ex-offenders re-enter society, many have difficulty obtaining housing or getting a job when they state they have a criminal record. OND’s don’t destroy records, but allow ex-offenders to honestly state when asked that they’ve never been convicted of a crime, while still allowing law enforcement and other entities operating in sensitive areas (health care, education, banks, etc.) to see them if necessary. This should help lower recidivism rates, and help people get back on their feet by reducing barriers to re-entry.
Another of the more weighty pieces of legislation signed into law was HB 1396. This bill does several things. First, HB 1396 codifies the rule of lenity, which means that if any reasonable ambiguity in a criminal statute exists, it should be resolved in favor of the defendant. This principle protects citizens, in one sense, from being subjected to an unclear element of the law.
In the interest of speedily resolving often times traumatic criminal cases involving a minor, HB1396 also gives docket preference to those cases where the alleged victim is under the age of 14.
HB 1396 also codifies the recent Riley decision of the Supreme Court, stating that law enforcement, excepting any exigent circumstances, must obtain a warrant to search a person’s phone pursuant to an arrest. 1396 increases penalty thresholds for property crimes to reflect recent inflation since those crimes were first codified, and finally, it creates a commission to study the non-criminal penal code for duplicative or overly broad laws that don’t serve the intended purpose of the law, and can be repealed.
Some of the other bills passed included SB 710, SB 790, and HB 1510.
Overall, it has been a very productive few days in Texas, with very substantial reforms to both the juvenile and adult correctional systems becoming law. Texas is proving yet again that conservative reforms to the justice system is possible, and providing the rest of the country a blueprint for bringing change to their own states.