83(R) - 2013
Vote Yes; Amend
Relating to the creation of a commission to investigate convictions after exoneration and to prevent wrongful convictions.
No significant fiscal impact is expected on the State or local governments.
Summary: Over a decade ago, the Texas Legislature enacted legislation that allows a convicted person to request a motion for DNA testing. Since this legislation, the number of exonerations in Texas has been increasing. HB 166 seeks to prevent wrongful convictions by creating the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission to determine the causes of wrongful convictions and propose reforms.
- This bill establishes a new commission with nine members appointed by the governor entitled the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission.
- Members serve staggered six-year terms with one-third of the members' terms expiring February 1st of each odd-numbered year.
- Members elect the presiding officer annually.
- Members determine meeting times, places, and other relevant information. However, the commission is required to meet in Austin once a year.
- The commission is required to conduct one public hearing annually.
- Members must be registered voters, must not hold any public office at the time, and must not have a spouse who is a registered lobbyist.
- Members are able to be removed for reasons related to lack of qualifications, illness, or lack of attendance.
- Members must complete training related to the commission and its duties.
- The commission is subject to sunset review and expires September 1, 2025 unless continued.
- The commission reviews all cases where an innocent person was convicted and exonerated to identify the causes, find the errors, and develop solutions.
- The commission reviews all applications for writ of habeas corpus made to the court of criminal appeals to identify ethical violations and develop solutions.
- The commission considers potential costs and savings of implementing their solutions.
- The commission can enter into contracts related to research and professional services to facilitate the commission's work.
- The commission is required to compile an annual report and is able to compile interim reports which are available to the public.
- The commission is required to submit these reports to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, and the legislature by December 1st of each even-numbered year or no later than the 60th day after the report is issued.
- The commission may apply for and accept grants from 501 c(3) and c(4) organizations and federal programs.
- The commission may accept private donations.
- All grants are required to be accepted in an open meeting and must be reported in the public records.
- The commission may authorize and disburse subgrants of funds from received grants.
- Members may not receive compensation for services provided. However, a member is entitled to reimbursement for incurred expenses.
- The Legislative Budget Board and the University of Texas are required to assist the commission.
- The commission may request assistance from other state agencies, and these state agencies are required to provide assistance.
- The commission is not subject to Chapter 2110 of the Government Code which deals with State Agency Advisory Committees.
Analysis: Wrongful convictions are an injustice to those wrongfully convicted regardless of the circumstances. Wrongful convictions that are a result of ethical violations or prosecutorial misconduct are especially morally outrageous. We recognize that these things do happen in Texas and that when they happen it is the responsibility of the state to provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted and to take preventative measures to prevent it from happening again in the future. This issue needs to be adequately researched and addressed to ensure that innocent people are not convicted. We are concerned, however, that creating a new commission to address this will lead to an expansion of the size and cost of government.
To be clear, we support the overall intent and purpose of the bill; we have reservations about the method of implementation. A better approach would be to task an existing state agency or commission with the responsibilities that would be given to this new commission. The Texas Supreme Court and the State Bar would be good candidates to take on this responsibility. Such an amendment would allow for the intent of the bill to be fulfilled at a lower cost to the state. We encourage legislators to support HB 166.