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Texas Legislators Move Closer to Overhauling State's Grand Jury System

The Texas House on Sunday gave final approval to an overhaul of the state's grand juries, moving one step closer to getting rid of a controversial way of seating the panels.

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The Texas House on Sunday gave final approval to an overhaul of the state's grand juries, moving one step closer to getting rid of a controversial way of seating the panels. 

By a vote of 79-59, the lower chamber approved Senate Bill 135 without debate. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, now goes back to the Senate. If senators don't concur with the amended legislation, a conference committee with members of the House and Senate will meet to reconcile the differences. 

The proposal eliminates Texas' "pick-a-pal" selection method in which judges appoint commissioners who then recruit jurors. SB 135 replaces the practice by selecting grand juries from the same pool from which which trial juries are picked, a more random process. 

Critics of the "pick-a-pal" system, an uncommon practice nationwide, say it could lead to conflicts of interest. The debate over the legislation has unfolded amid outrage nationwide that grand juries have failed to indict police officers in shootings of unarmed men. 

The proposal picked up early momentum in March when the Senate unanimously approved it. But it took the House longer than expected to pass it, and even as the legislation left the lower chamber Sunday, it was unclear whether Gov. Greg Abbott would sign the bill.

Dutton amended the bill Saturday to delete language saying courts assembling the juries "shall consider the county's demographics related to race, ethnicity, sex and age." On the floor, Dutton said the governor's office had asked him to remove the requirement.

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