COMMITTEE PASSES TYC REFORM BILL
(AUSTIN) — The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a measure Wednesday that contains sweeping reforms for the troubled Texas Youth Commission. Legislators have been looking for solutions to problems at TYC since a two-year old investigation revealed abuse of inmates at one campus in West Texas. The bill passed Wednesday would increase training for agency employees and prohibit misdemeanor offenders from being sent to TYC.
Senate Bill 103, by McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, addresses many problems revealed during the legislative investigation. One provision would prevent misdemeanor offenders from being remanded to TYC facilities. Hinojosa said that about 30 percent of TYC inmates are incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses, and those offenders are better served by local and county services. Another provision mandates 300 hours of training for TYC employees, as opposed to the 30-40 hours they get now.
The bill also creates a "Parents Bill of Rights" for parents with children in TYC. Parents would have to be informed of the facility policies, the grievance process, and would be informed if their child needed medical attention. Advocacy groups would get increased access to TYC inmates, including one-on-one meetings, in order to avoid suppression of complaints, or retaliation against those that bring complaints. The practice of housing inmates from widely different ages would be ended, requiring youth of similar age, and class of crime, to be housed together. The bill lowers the maximum age for retention of inmates from 21 to 19.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst praised the Senate budget passed Tuesday by the Finance committee, saying it represented a conservative fiscal policy that still helped Texas' most vulnerable. The base bill is larger than last biennium's budget by 3.4 percent, but Dewhurst says much of that is due to accounting changes, repaying past deferments, and the state's settlement over a Medicaid lawsuit. Dewhurst applauded the Finance Committee for passing a bill that maintains vital public services. "I think these members have worked hard to have a very, very compassionate budget, that helps public education, higher education, health and human services, the needy, children, and the vulnerable in our society," he said. The budget is slated for floor debate on Thursday.
The Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would mandate at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise for public school students from kindergarten through 8th grade. Bill author Senator Jane Nelson says that more than one-third of Texas children are overweight and are at risk of becoming the first generation to not live longer than their parents.
The Senate also passed a bill that would require more Legislative oversight over the delegation of eminent domain authority. Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock said that too often, bills that delegate the authority to seize private property to local entities pass through the Legislature with too little discussion. Senate Joint Resolution 3 would create a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote in both chambers in order to pass a bill that gives entities eminent domain authority.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 12, at 10 a.m.