During the 85th legislative session, I worked on many issues impacting not only District 147, but all Texans. Below are highlights of my achievements this session and what I look forward to working on during the interim.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston: He set a trap for the Senate by filing a catch-all bill that he anticipated Senate Republicans might amend at the session’s end to push through measures the House opposed, which they did. Coleman then killed the bill, to the joy of House members.
Sandra Bland Act: Legislation to increase mental health training and safeguards in Texas jails passed at the last minute, though it was watered down considerably. Even so, supporters say it’s a big first step.
Dallas Morning News
Responding to growing tensions between police and the public nationwide, Houston Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman passed the Sandra Bland Act, a law named after an African-American woman who died in a Waller County jail in 2015 after being arrested during a routine traffic stop.Though it was intended to be a more expansive overhaul of criminal justice processes, the final version of the law primarily addresses treatment of the mentally ill who come in contact with law enforcement.It requires more mental health training for jailers and will require county jails to maintain mental health professionals on call.
Thank you to the Austin Chronicle for naming two of my bills as “Bill of the Week” this session: the Sandra Bland Act and House Bill 2135 regarding coverage of postpartum depression.
On the Sandra Bland Act that I authored, they wrote, “The bill represents first steps toward major criminal justice reforms that would protect all Texans from the fate of Sandra Bland.” Click here to read.
The postpartum bill that I authored, HB 2135, would extend coverage for certain services under the medical assistance and CHIP perinatal programs for the 12-month period after the date the enrolled woman gives birth to the child. Click here to read.
Sandra Bland’s unnecessary jailing and tragic death gained statewide and national attention. Bland, a black, 28-year-old civil rights activist was found dead in Waller County Jail three days after being arrested in 2015.
Bland was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, but was arrested when an argument with Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia escalated, who was found to be in violation of DPS procedure.
The House Committee on County Affairs that I chair held five hearings to review and discuss the facts, circumstances, and policies that played a factor in the death of Bland. I wrote and filed House Bill 2702, known as the Sandra Bland Act, aiming to improve and correct Texas’ criminal justice system to prevent future tragedies like Bland’s.
The original House Bill 2702 as filed is the gold standard for criminal justice reform, but could not get past the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s objections. Senate Bill 1849, filed as a companion by Senator Whitmire, was trimmed down to ease opposition from conservative leadership. It passed the Senate 31-0 and was sent to the House where it was voted favorably 139-0.
I would have preferred a more robust bill, but this remains a valuable criminal justice and mental health reform bill.
The Sandra Bland Act is now on its way to the Governor’s desk.
I am also a joint sponsor with Representative Senfronia Thompson of Senate Bill 30 by Senator West, which requires all high school students, future drivers, and law enforcement to learn civilians’ rights, the duties of law enforcement, and proper behavior during interactions.
Representative Collier, Senator Menendez, and I also worked together to pass HB 337, which was in the original filed version of the Sandra Bland Act, but passed as a standalone bill. HB 337 allows County jails to suspend state benefits for people who are held in jail instead of terminating their state benefits. Suspension is much better because once released individuals can then be automatically access their benefits, where if benefits are terminated they must go through the lengthy process of reapplying for their benefits.
Together SB 30, HB 337, and the Sandra Bland Act will act as the foundational policies for continuing work on criminal justice reform. The County Affairs committee that I chair will once again look into what can be done during the interim to approve policing in Texas, prohibit arrests for fine-only offenses hearings, and push bail reform.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus congratulates Chairman Coleman on passage of the Sandra Bland Act on May 19, 2017.
Through working with the Budget conference committee I was able to secure funding for several important initiatives. Part of the Sandra Bland Act is reliant on making sure we have Community Collaboratives to divert people to so they can get the help they need instead of going to jail. In this year’s budget I helped secure a total of $92.5 millionto help fund current Community Collaboratives including the one in Houston, and fund new Rural Regional Community Collaboratives around the state. Also, part of the Sandra Bland act includes a million dollars to retrofit county jails with technology to keep inmates safer.I also made sure Houston got the funds it needs. I secured $2 million in funding for the Harris County Leadership Academy which helps get troubled youth back on the right track. Additionally, I helped ensure that both Texas Southern University and the University of Houston receive more funding this upcoming biennium than last biennium despite the total state budget being smaller. Additionally, through the budget I helped ensure that the University of Houston can begin the process of adding a medical school that will help prepare future doctors to serve the surrounding area. During the upcoming interim, the Texas Legislature will look into how formula funding may be having a disproportionately negative effect on some schools, such as TSU.
Also in the budget I helped ensure several important health initiatives were included. Such as, new federal funds from President Obama’s 21st Century Cures Act to help fund screening and treatment of postpartum depression, and treat the opioid epidemic which is a factor in many of the child removals done by CPS. I also made sure that Clubhousesthat give people with mental illness or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities a place to go and be part of something continue to receive funding from the State.
…a special session.