The Sandra Bland Act
I am introducing the Sandra Bland Act in memory of Sandra Bland, and to address the harmful policies that ultimately led to her tragic death. The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve our criminal justice system and prevent future tragedies. The Act’s goal is to decrease racial disparities in traffic stops and searches, strengthen Texas’ Racial Discrimination law, and increase the use of personal recognizance bonds—just to name a few of the important policies in the Act. Issues regarding pretrial diversion for individuals suffering from a mental health crisis who do not need to be in jail, the constitutionality of equal protection claims, de-escalation tactics, and diversion before booking for those pulled over for non-violent offenses will all be addressed in The Sandra Bland Act. The goal is that The Sandra Bland Act combined with a focus on building relationships between law enforcement and citizens will be able to make Texas safer for everyone.
Pre-booking diversion needs to be increased. Often law enforcement is dealing with individuals whose mental health or addiction is causing them to run afoul of the law. Diverting people suffering from mental illness to places that can help connect them to resources for treatment is better than taking them to jail where they will either deteriorate further or bail out just to end up back in jail the next time they have a crisis. Additionally, diverting individuals by not arresting them for fine-only offenses is another effective way to prevent strain on our law enforcement and jails.
Personal Recognizance (PR) Bonds
Sandra Bland, like many in Texas, was unnecessarily jailed. This over-jailing not only hurts the individual incarcerated, but also is a major financial burden on the taxpayers. To help alleviate this problem, the Act aims to increase the use of personal recognizance (PR) bonds by making PR bonds the presumption when setting bail for all non-violent misdemeanor arrests. This is not only the right thing to do but it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Law Enforcement Training
The Sandra Bland Act aims to strengthen enforcement mechanisms to provide additional training for law enforcement who need it and punish officers who repeatedly racially profile. Part of that will also include making the complaint system more robust and transparent. To avoid some of these problems altogether the Act will attempt to prevent the use of consent searches. Policies aimed at stopping pre-textual and investigatory stops will also be included in the Sandra Bland Act.
The Sandra Bland Act aims to increase and improve the use of de-escalation tactics in Texas by ensuring that law enforcement officers receive more evidence-based de-escalation training—not only during their initial training but also as part of their continuing education. In addition to training, the approach of law enforcment should also shift to a guardian focused approach, where de-escalation is the primary approach in all public interactions.
Funding of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards
The County Affairs Committee that I chair, exercised its oversight capacity during the interim over the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to improve the suicide screening form that is used during booking. But more still needs to be done. Texas needs to evaluate the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to determine if it has the resources and structure to provide sufficient oversight, regulation, and enforcement over Texas county jails. The Sandra Bland Act if passed will create a grant program that will provide funding to county jails to improve safety. The measures county jails can use to improve safety under this program can include, but are not limited to increasing telemedicine services, onsite medical professionals, and automated electronic sensors to ensure accurate and timely cell checks are occurring. Additional funding is also needed for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to ensure the over 200 County jails in Texas are safe and up to standard.
Ultimately, the Sandra Bland Act will aim to enhance our pre-trial criminal justice system and prevent tragedies like what happened to Sandra Bland. These policies are truly the effort of the work of many who have come to share their ideas with the County Affairs committee.
Mental Health Awareness Day
Tuesday, February 8th was Mental Illness Awareness Day at the Texas Capitol. Mental health is an issue I care deeply about and was honored to speak at the Mental Health Awareness Rally. For people who suffer from mental illnesses, the struggle to cope and function in society can be overwhelming. I am determined to improve the mental healthcare system in Texas. You can watch the coverage of the rally here.
Photo courtesy of Phil Prazan.
This week Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments that each member will serve during the 85th Texas Legislature. I am pleased and humbled to be reappointed Chair of County Affairs again this session. As Chair, I look forward to ensuring the committee process meets the standards of the Texans we serve—remaining open, inclusive, and productive.
I will also be continuing my service on the Public Health Committee. We’ve made great progress in improving public health policy, which I’m encouraged to preserve and build upon this session.
In a statement, Speaker Straus said that his committee assignments “reflect the diversity of the Texas House.” I agree. The thoughtful approach the Speaker took in making his choices shines through and I’m confident his leadership will steer the House to new levels of productivity this session. Committees will begin meeting on Monday morning.
In honor of a fantastic Super Bowl in Houston the song of the week is “Telephone” by Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé.