Lawmakers to consider new sentences for 17-year-old murderers
Jacob Fischler, The Monitor
When the Texas Legislature meets for another special session Monday, another controversial abortion measure is expected to take center stage.
But a bill impacting the future of criminal justice in the state — a bill that passed both chambers during the regular legislative session — will also be heard again.
Just more than a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for people under 18 violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling means that states like Texas — where the law on record maintains that 17 year olds who are convicted of capital murder are automatically sentenced to life without parole — have to pass new statutes.
Valley House delegation split on abortion bill as locals protest at Capitol
Jacqueline Armendariz and Jared Janes, The Monitor
McALLEN — The abortion bill set to reach the state Senate today split Rio Grande Valley delegates in the House on Monday and brought several Valley residents to the Capitol in protest.
Discussion of Senate Bill 5 touched on largely rural and low-income places like the Valley, where women would have to travel hundreds of miles to access an abortion provider or potentially go to Mexico.
The bill’s wide-ranging restrictions would effectively shut down all abortion clinics in the nation’s second most-populous state, while proponents say it raises the standard of health care for women seeking an abortion, The Associated Press reported.
House adds no-parole sentence for 17-year-old capital murder defendants
Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman
The Texas House on Friday tentatively agreed to a tougher sentence for 17-year-olds who commit capital murder than the Senate has, adding life without parole as an option even though the U.S. Supreme Court has banned that punishment.
By a vote of 110-28, the House agreed with arguments that the revised bill would pass legal muster because it allows judges and juries to consider the suspect’s age and other mitigating factors before it decides on a sentence.
Texas lawmakers pass key special session bills
AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers worked toward two of the main goals of the special legislative session on Friday by adopting voting maps and setting out a new sentencing rule for 17-year-olds who commit capital crimes.
The Texas House gave final passage to three bills containing maps for the Texas House, Senate and congressional districts. Gov. Rick Perry initially called the special session to adopt plans drawn by a federal court for the 2012 elections after determining the Legislature's original maps discriminated against minority groups such as blacks and Hispanics.
Voting largely along party lines, the House approved the congressional districts without any changes from 2012, but made tiny tweaks to the maps of their own districts. The groups who sued to block the Legislature's Senate map have agreed to accept the court-drawn map of that chamber's districts, and they are no longer in dispute.
House committee endorses legislation on youth sentences
A House committee vote in favor of legislation to change the punishment for 17-year-old capital murder defendants to mandatory life with parole brought Texas one step closer to resolving the state's sentencing quagmire left in the wake of last year'sSupreme Court ruling barring mandatory life without parole for anyone under 18.
In Texas, the criminal code designates 17 as an adult. The Supreme Court ruling made unconstitutional the only sentence available for 17-year-old capital murder defendants.
Without a legal punishment on the books, prosecutors are faced with filing cases on a lesser charge or putting the trials on hold. When legislation failed to pass during the regular session, Gov. Rick Perry, at the urging of prosecutors statewide, called on lawmakers to fix the legal loophole during the special session.
Bill passes for drug testing for unemployment benefits.
Veronica Gallegos, Valley Central
Perry signs 'school marshal' bill; RGV districts to opt out
Jacob Fischler, The Monitor
Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill Saturday that will allow teachers and other school district employees to carry guns inside schools.
The Protection of Texas Children Act — which will become law Sept. 1 — will give school districts statewide the option of designating one employee per 400 students as a “school marshal.” School marshals will be anonymous and plain-clothed employees carrying concealed firearms whose identities will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. They are meant to be a line of defense in the case of a school shooting incident like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.
Currently, Texas school districts have the options of requesting uniformed peace officers be assigned to campuses, allowing school employees with concealed handgun licenses to bring their guns to school, or having no formal security policy.
“This is another option on the table,” said Brittany Eck, the chief of staff for state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who authored the bill. The law will allow districts the choice to participate or not.
Perry signs bill to merge Rio Grande Valley universities
Jacqueline Armendariz, The Monitor
EDINBURG — Building a new public university that encompasses the Rio Grande Valley has become the law of the land.
Gov. Rick Perry late Friday evening signed legislation that would merge the Valley’s two public universities and establish a medical school.
Senate Bill 24 allows the University of Texas-Pan American to merge with the University of Texas at Brownsville. With the merger comes a regional medical school officials promise will transform the Valley, as it aims to stem a critical shortage of doctors here, expand higher educational opportunities and create jobs.
UT System released a joint statement from Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell Saturday.
More than $183 million sought by Rep. Canales for new construction at UTPA, UT-Brownsville
DAVID A. DÍAZ, My Harlingen News
As much as $183.3 million could be generated for critical new construction at the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville under legislation being supported by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.
The funding request for the local universities is featured in two major proposals – each approaching $2.7 billion for new projects at college campuses throughout Texas – filed during the ongoing 30-day special session of the Texas Legislature, which began on May 31.
However, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature, and only the governor can decide what legislation may be considered by state lawmakers during a special session.
The House District 40 state representative wants Gov. Rick Perry to add the university funding legislation to the special session.
Canales announces key endorsements in Dist. 40 race.
EDINBURG – Coming off an extraordinary weekend through the heart of District 40 which his campaign dubbed the “Weekend of a Thousand Handshakes,” Terry Canales, candidate for State Representative in the District 40 runoff election, announced today the backing of key statewide and local organizations who have strongly voiced their support of his candidacy.
After receiving the most votes by the constituents in District 40 in the Primary Election in May, individuals and organizations across throughout the state swiftly moved to place their support behind the frontrunner, Canales said in a news release.
Canales has been endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO, the renowned statewide labor organization boasting over 220,000 members in Texas and representing the interests of associations such as Communication Workers of America, the American Federation of Government Employees, United Steel Workers, United Auto Workers, among others. Canales also garnered statewide support from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, the Texas Association of Realtors PAC (TREPAC), and the Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT).