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In response to nationwide protests against police brutality last year, the Texas House on Thursday passed a billto raise criminal penalties and require jail time for people who obstruct a roadway if it prevents the passage of an emergency vehicle or blocks a hospital entrance.
After tentative approval Wednesday, the House finally passed House Bill 9 on a 90-55 vote. It nowheads to the Senate.
In Texas, HB 9 would make blocking a roadway a state jail felony if the offense also prevented the passage of an emergency vehicle or blocked a hospital entrance. Currently, the offense is a misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail. A state jail felony carries a punishment of up to two years in the Texas prison system plus a lifelong brand as a felon, making it harder to get a job and secure housing. The bill would also require those convicted to spend at least 10 days in jail, even if they are sentenced to probation.
“In an emergency, seconds matter,” state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said last week when first presenting HB 9. “We all have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble under the First Amendment, but what we don’t have is a right to prevent authorized emergency vehicles that can provide life saving care.”
The House’s priority legislation is a reaction to a protest in California last September. After two deputies were shot in their patrol car, the sheriff’s office said anti-police protesters blocked the emergency room entrance to admit them.
State Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and co-chair of the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, said the bill sets itself apart from any other Texas law on mandatory minimums by requiring at least 10 days in jail even if the person had no criminal history.
“We are reacting to one case out of California and changing the law in Texas because of it,” he said on the House floor last week. “And we’re doing it in a way that does not sync up with what we’ve been doing for years on criminal justice reform.”
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