The Brief: Who will pay for criminal justice reform in Texas?
A big question remains for lawmakers as they start the session: If the state is going to reform how county jails address mental health, who is going to pay for those changes in a tight budget year?
This is Bobby Blanchard, and starting today, I'll be writing and producing The Brief along with Texas Tribune fellows Sanya Mansoor and Cassi Pollock. You’ll notice a few small changes in today's edition that reflect feedback we received from many of you in a recent survey. We hope you like them, and most of all, that The Brief continues to prepare you for the day ahead in Texas politics. Let us know what you think. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and happy Monday! If you have friends who might want to join our list, please forward this email. They can click here to sign up. – BB
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What you need to know
After Sandra Bland's suicide in a Waller County jail cell, several Texas lawmakers promised criminal justice reforms to help improve the way county jails help inmates with mental health issues. But now a big question looms ahead of the session: Who is going to pay for those reforms in a tight budget year?
- In a wrongful death settlement, the Waller County judge agreed to seek criminal justice reform legislation in Bland's name. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has promised to introduce the Sandra Bland Act, a bill that he says would address several of the issues around her death.
- In addition to requiring additional police training in de-escalation, Coleman says he'd like the act to improve the way Texas jails approach mental illness. Tom Rhodes, the Bland family's attorney, has said the state needs to improve medical care and inmate monitoring. That could include everything from expanding requirements for nurses in jails, making telemedicine available and using a card swipe systems to monitor how frequently inmates are checked up on.
- But Jackson County Sheriff A.J. “Andy” Louderback said he's worried jails will end up paying for these reforms without state funding. “Most of our jails, here in Texas, don’t have the type of resources that are necessary to take care of all the criminal justice reforms that are being asked about and talked about and printed about right now,” Louderback said.
- And lawmakers have significantly less cash to work with this year. Last week, Comptroller Glenn Hegar said lawmakers will have $104.87 billion to craft the budget, a 2.7 percent decrease from the previous session. The question isn't whether there will be cuts but rather where cuts will be made.
News from home
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What we're reading
(Links below lead to outside websites; paywall content noted with $)
‘I’m Going to Leave Politics Alone for Now,’ Julián Castro Says on HUD Exit, Texas Standard
Permian oil fields continue to record rising activity levels, The Midland Reporter-Telegram
IRS to delay tax refunds for millions of low-income families, Laredo Morning Times
Rep. Cuellar appointed to key subcommittees for intelligence, defense, The Monitor
Dallas Sen. Don Huffines aims to stop cities from regulating guns, The Dallas Morning News ($)
Federal housing agency: Houston housing policies violate civil rights act, The Houston Chronicle ($)
Photo of the day
Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith kicked off the Tribune's first-ever symposium on race relations in America by interviewing civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. Photo by Bob Daemmrich. See more photos on our Instagram account.
Quote to note
“It’s something that I’m starting the conversation for. Doing this is not about being punitive. It’s about saving careers, saving marriages and saving lives. It’s the right thing to do.”
— Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo urging better mental health for police officers during a Tribune symposium Saturday
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