The 83rd session was a success for some issues, no doubt. Education was one of them, Texting-while-driving was not one of them and Criminal Justice landed somewhere in the middle. While certain issues saw success, most notably the Michael Morton discovery act, the success stopped on any issues even approaching reforms our asinine drug and alcohol laws.
The Houston Press (hair balls) published a scathing report two days ago that touched upon the discrepancy in arrests for marijuana, where in this State, African-American offenders are 2.3 times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis offenses than White offenders. The gap is the highest in the nation. Blacks are 3 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for the offenses in Harris County, according to the Press article. Just in Houston’s backyard, Chambers County has among the worst gaps in the nation.
Perhaps some of this could have been fixed if the legislature would have taken meaningful steps towards drug law reform. HB 184, a bill first proposed by Harold Dutton, would have decriminalized the possession of under 1 oz. of marijuana. Despite passing the House’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on a bipartisan 6-3 vote, the legislation died on the floor of the House, and was never even given a hearing in the Senate.
As much as the good ol’ boys in the legislature may pontificate and grandstand about being fiscal conservatives, a decision to quit going after non-violent, harmless crimes (like cannabis possession) will never be given a chance so as long as our State is run by the Republican Party. And when it comes to raising revenues without raising taxes, there are some ideas so simple that you just don’t understand why they didn’t happen.
I am, of course, referring to a proposal to sell liquor on Sundays. According to a Houston Chronicle article on the topic, “$7.5 Million” in new revenues could have been raised from enacting the proposal. This bill, Senfronia Thompson’s HB 421, wasn’t even given a vote in Committee, pitiful. The 83rd session failed miserably at enacting these common sense reforms.