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Summary: HB 2979 would create a new first degree felony for continuous physical abuse. Additionally, this bill would increase the time for parole eligibility for an offense of injury to a child, elderly, or disabled individual from one-quarter of their sentence to one-half of their sentence. This bill would remove the ability of the jury to recommend an individual who commits a first-degree felony offense of injury to a child for community supervision.
Analysis: We agree that individuals who cause harm to children should be penalized heavily. However, HB 2979 contains some concerning provisions. This bill contains a provision stating that the jury does not have to agree unanimously on which specific acts of physical abuse were committed. If an individual will spend no less than 25 years in jail, the jury should agree on the two specific acts of physical abuse that occurred.
The provision creating an offense for continuous physical abuse (Section 4 of the bill) is not limited to first degree felonies which means an individual who negligently injures a child twice can be put in jail for 25 years to life. Additionally, Section 22.04 of the Penal Code (aggravated assault) is included in the possible offenses for continuous physical abuse. Aggravated assault can be an instance where an individual exhibits a gun and threatens but does not make physical contact. This bill would create a possibility for two of the aforementioned acts to be used to put an individual in jail for 25 years to life.
We recommend amending HB 2979 to strike the part of Section 22.03 (c) of Section 4 that does not require the jury to agree unanimously on which specific acts of physical abuse occurred and to add a provision to Section 4 of the bill that would limit it to first degree felonies. If HB 2979 is not amended, we recommend voting NO.