Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation reforming Texas' grand juries, officially scrapping the state's controversial "pick-a-pal" method of selecting people to sit on the panels.
Under House Bill 2150, the state will no longer use the outdated system that lets judge-appointed commissioners pick jurors, a nationally uncommon practice that critics say is rife with potential for conflicts of interest. Authored by Democratic state Rep. Carol Alvarado of Houston, HB 2150 institutes a more random process drawing jurors from broader pools of potential candidates.
"This bill will ensure that grand juries are qualified, representative and impartial in the pursuit of justice," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement Friday.
Before signing the bill late Thursday, Abbott's position on the proposal was unclear. But as HB 2150 worked its way through the legislative process, it became increasingly apparent his office was involved in it, most visibly in convincing Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, to remove language prioritizing the demographics of a county in the makeup of a jury. Language was later added back into the bill that still achieved the goal of ensuring diversity on the panels, according to its Senate sponsor, Houston Democrat John Whitmire.
The proposal was put forward this session amid national outrage over grand juries that had failed to indict police officers in shootings of unarmed men. At the Capitol, the idea faced an uncertain fate at times, but eventually survived in the form of HB 2150, which the House sent to Abbott's desk on the second-to-last day of the session. The vote was 86-57.
The legislation goes into effect Sept. 1.