SENATE APPROVES LAW ENFORCEMENT GRANTS FOR RURAL COUNTIES
(AUSTIN) — Counties with fewer than 300,000 residents could receive up to half a million dollars in state grants per year to hire more officers under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday. Muenster Senator Drew Springer says that in many rural counties, all law enforcement duties are handled by a handful of sheriff's deputies. These counties don't have the tax base, he said, to pay for needed public safety services. Springer cited the example of Throckmorton County, an area of more than 900 square miles that is served by a single law enforcement official: the county sheriff. "Eight thousand people a day are driving through his county and he is it," said Springer. "If he has a problem on the road with somebody, he knows that DPS is 30 minutes away because they come out another county to serve him and that is not the law enforcement we need to see in this state." Small county prosecutors are similarly underfunded, he said, unable to hire additional lawyers, investigators, and other personnel needed for successful criminal prosecution.
Senator Drew Springer of Muenster says that rural counties need state money to hire desperately needed law enforcement officers.
His bill, SB 22, would grant rural counties up to $500,000 to hire new deputies and pay them starting annual salaries of $45,000 and pay sheriffs $75,000. The grant amount would range from the full half-million dollars for the counties close to the population cap, down to $275,000 for counties with populations of less than 10,000. There's a similar allocation for district attorneys' offices in these counties, ranging from $100,000 up to $250,000 for larger counties. "This will make sure that Texans - no matter where they are, where they travel - are safe," said Springer. "We will have the proper law enforcement and the proper prosecutorial power to go after those bad actors."
This bill was a major priority of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who formulated the concept while meeting with rural law enforcement officials during his statewide campaign last year. He said he met with sheriff after sheriff who told him they didn't have the money needed to hire personnel or necessary equipment. "It is unprecedented, the state has never helped local counties with law enforcement before," he said. "I thank all the members who supported this unanimously and recognized that law enforcement needs to be there in all 254 counties."
Also Tuesday, the Senate tentatively approved two measures dealing with gender identity. The first, SB 15, by Galveston Senator Mayes Middleton, would require collegiate athletes to compete in leagues that correspond to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates. Middleton says that individuals born male and transition to female have an unfair advantage in women's divisions. "When we consider the physiological differences between men and women in the context of athletic competitions, we can't have fair competition," he said. The second measure, SB 162 by Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock, would bar changing the sex listed on a minor's birth certificate, except to correct clerical errors or in cases where a child is born intersex.
Finally, the Senate approved a bail reform measure that would set a hard floor on the amount paid to a bondsman to secure release from jail. Houston Senator John Whitmire said that while that amount has traditionally been ten percent of the set bond, committee investigations into Harris County revealed that in some cases, bondsmen were accepting as little as two percent of the set bond as surety and would even offer financing. "They would release an armed robber after that person posted two percent and financed the remainder of the bond, which you and I realize turns them loose to go rob and steal to pay the remainder of their bond fee," said Whitmire. Harris County addressed this problem by requiring a surety bond of at least ten percent, and SB 1151 would extend that rule to the rest of the state.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 29, at 11 a.m.