A slate of bills with bipartisan support aimed at addressing problems with the criminal justice system are making their way through the Texas Legislature. They’re part of a package branded as “Smarter Justice, Safer Texas,” spearheaded by Texas House speaker, Republican Dade Phelan, and House speaker pro tem, Democrat Joe Moody.
Moody told Texas Standard the bills are part of an ongoing effort by the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus to address problems in the criminal justice system. This session, Moody says lawmakers are working toward the following changes: bail reform; provisions related to illicit drugs; giving the formerly incarcerated so-called second chances in which their records could be sealed after serving their sentence; and more consistent sharing of law enforcement officers’ records when they change jobs within the criminal justice system.
“These are the types of things that we want to do to … create a robust change to the system, top to bottom,” Moody said.
What that the package doesn’t address is so-called defunding of police departments – a catch-all term describing cities’ efforts to redirect money that would normally go to traditional law-enforcement activities and put it into non-law-enforcement programs to address complex social issues like mental health and homelessness.
“That conversation exists in its own space and is very complex,” he said.
Moody says efforts at addressing problems in policing and criminal justice have been underway for years in the Texas Legislature. He cites anti-chokehold bills that have been filed in previous sessions. Now, he says there’s a renewed focus on such legislation due to a resurgent civil rights movement in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a police officer in Minneapolis last year.
“Those tragic events amplified a conversation that was already happening and hopefully will create a space that we can actually achieve some change,” Moody said.