News Roundup: Criminal Justice Bill Passes Senate With Help From John Cornyn

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelDecember 19, 2018 1:56 pm

A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is on the verge of becoming law. The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of the First Step Act Tuesday night.

The legislation, among other things, ends automatic life sentences under the “three-strikes” penalty for drug felonies, and provides more access to training and rehabilitation programs for federal inmates.

Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, praised these types of programs on the Senate Floor ahead of the final vote.

“By investing in these education and training programs – these recidivism reduction programs – we can ensure that people who get out of prison, more of them will actually stay out of prison,” Cornyn said.

The U.S. House is expected to tackle the bill in the coming days, and it also has the backing of President Donald Trump.

Democratic lawmakers are trying to learn more about the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in border patrol custody.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus lead a delegation to U.S. Border Patrol sites in New Mexico Tuesday to explore the circumstances surrounding Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death. Several U.S. Representatives from Texas made the trip. They shared their thoughts at a press conference after touring the facilities.

Rep. Al Green of Houston called the situation at the border “a humanitarian crisis that is being treated as a law enforcement circumstance.” Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar of El Paso argued “we have to do a better job in our country of taking care of one another regardless of country of origin.” And congresswoman-elect Sylvia Garcia of Houston said that after her visit, “Frankly I have more questions now than I feel like I got answers, because so often they were just being evasive.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who lead the delegation, went a step further. He wants the Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan resign after talking with him about this tragedy.

“Based on my conversations with him, based on his conduct, I believe that he should step down, I believe that would be the best course of action at this time,” Rep. Castro said.

Castro, who is chairman-elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says McAleenan failed to inform Congress about Jakelin’s death within 24 hours as required.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice estimates that through the end of 2018, most major cities will see a drop in their murder rates. But three Texas cities – Houston, Austin, and El Paso –have already seen higher murder rates than the year before. Houston had more murders than any other major city in Texas.

And while Austin and El Paso also had more murders this year – their overall rates are among the lowest in the state. Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio saw fewer murders in 2018, in line with national trends.