This legislative session, state leaders have several opportunities to give Texas youth a better chance to put their lives on track when they get in trouble. SB 1630, an omnibus bill, would keep youth closer to home and ensure the use of performance-based measures and evidence-based practices. The bill holds great promise, although some details are still being worked out. The Legislature is also seriously considering a number of bills with different approaches to truancy reform, ultimately aiming for the important goal of decriminalizing truancy, providing students the supports needed to get them back in the classroom, and making sure court is only used as a last resort.
In addition to these efforts, here are seven other bills we support, starting with the high-profile and critically important proposal to "raise the age” of juvenile jurisdiction.
1. SB 104 by Sen. Juan "Chuy” Hinojosa would include 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. Several similar bills have been filed in the House. Currently in Texas, ALL 17-year-old law-breakers go to the adult criminal justice system, even though the vast majority of their offenses are nonviolent misdemeanors. The legislation would make the juvenile system the default for 17-year-olds while maintaining the option to certify them as adults. Sheriffs, judges, and others are backing the proposal to hold these teens accountable in the juvenile system as a way to save money, prevent assaults on jailed 17-year-olds, and reduce repeat crimes when the teens are released.
2. HB 2626 by Rep. Toni Rose and SB 1401 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez would also address the age range for our juvenile justice system, directing a task force to identify services that could be an alternative to the juvenile system for the youngest children who get in trouble. Currently children as young as 10 years old can enter the justice system and can even be incarcerated in the state’s juvenile justice facilities.
3. HB 3277 by Rep. Harold Dutton would give the state’s juvenile justice ombudsman authority to ensure youth in all levels of the juvenile justice system are safe. Currently, the ombudsman has access to youth in state facilities but not those in county placements, such as the teenager killed in 2014 in a privately-run residential treatment center while under the supervision of Travis County Juvenile Probation.
4. HB 431 by Rep. James White would create an advisory committee to examine the retention of juvenile justice records. A 19-year-old's efforts to get a job, find housing, or get into college shouldn't be hampered by a single mistake at age 15. But that and other problems can occur under the current patchwork of rules about how and when teens' juvenile justice records can be sealed from the public. The bill would form an advisory committee to examine the scenarios that arise and make sure that the process serves the best interest of the community and protects the due process rights of teens who turn their lives around.
5. SB 1334 by Sen. Royce West would hold school districts accountable for disproportionately punishing students based on race, disability, or special education needs. The bill directs TEA to analyze school district data and require districts with a pattern of disproportional discipline to develop an improvement plan.
6. HB 2684 by Rep. Helen Giddings would create a youth-focused, model training program and training requirements for school police officers. The training would give school officers the tools and resources to help keep students in school and learning, instead of pushing them into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
7. HB 3979 by Rep. Dawnna Dukes and SB 1696 by Sen. Royce West would ban the use of Tasers and pepper spray on students by school police. Efforts to keep students safe from these weapons has taken on greater urgency since a school resource officer in Bastrop ISD Tased a high school student, causing him to fall, hit his head, and suffer a traumatic brain injury.