There has been some movement on quite a few different bills recently. First, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed what I call the Romeo & Romeo Bill, which equalizes exceptions to the age of consent for close-age relationships in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Second, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to clarify and expand the ability of defense attorneys to have access to DA’s files on their clients. Finally, just today, the Senate (roll call unavailable at the moment) passed a bill to drug test applicants for unemployment insurance. I’ll talk about each a little bit:
Romeo & Romeo
Statesman reports that the Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to advance the bill, SB 1316, to the whole Senate. The committee, which is inexplicably chaired by a Democrat (Whitmire), was plagued by many absences that day. Out of the eight committee members, only five bothered to show up. Of the five voting for the bill, only one was a Republican. Essentially, the problem the bill attempts to alleviate is that while the age of consent is 17, there are many exceptions These are called “Romeo & Juliet exceptions,” say that if a 16 year old girl has sex with a 17 year old boy, or any type of scenario like that up to three years difference, no statutory rape would be committed. However, the exception only applies to heterosexual couples. This means one boy on his 17th birthday has sex with his boyfriend, who is 16 years and 10 months old, the 17 year old would be a sex offender. Yeah, it’s THAT screwed up.
Anyways, I am surprised this archaic regulation hasn’t been struck by a federal judge yet. But the bill is receiving from blow-back from the Religious Right. The Statesman article interviews an evangelical woman who was livid at the prospect of any sort of rights or equality for the dreaded homos [sarcasm]. Her two quotes were “can’t believe this is being discussed at our Capitol, where normal Texans are in control” and “The gay liberal agenda is still alive up here, and this bill proves it, we’ll be starting a campaign of prayer and phone calls to stop this one in its tracks” [not sarcasm]. And she’s not alone. Ugh.
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Senate voted unanimously to clarify the right of defense attorneys to access DA’s files in their clients. The impetus for this act comes from Michael Morton, a Texan convicted of murder and only exonerated recently. His attorneys claim the reason for his wrongful conviction was the DA intentionally burying evidence. This bill has been a pet project of Senator Ellis.
Drug Testing UI too
Just one day after the Senate voted to drug test welfare, they have voted to do the same thing with unemployment insurance. The Trib reports the passage of Tommy Williams’ SB21, although it says nothing about its unanimity, meaning probably at least a few Dems opposed the measure. Wendy Davis successfully got an amendment into the legislation that allows applicants to appeal drug test positives, and Kirk Watson put in an amendment that allows violators to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a treatment program. Both of those things make it a little better, but I still don’t see the point in doing someone in the name of “fiscal responsibility” when we don’t save any money on it. I’ll update this later to reflect the roll call. Dos Centavos has more.