FROM TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE WILL METCALF
The birthday of President Washington, our nation’s first President, has become the day on which we honor all of those who have held our nation’s highest office. The job is difficult and thankless, but 45 people have taken it on. Many served during wartime, economic upheaval, the turmoil that preceded even bigger historical events, times of national tragedy, or times of great national triumph. And many, many more will do so in the future. On this President’s Day week, let us remember the 45 individuals who shaped our nation, inspired us and led us.
Across the nation, we have seen a great deal of reform in our criminal justice system. Texas has been ground zero for many of these policies. We have been open to changes that improve the outcomes for those who truly seek to reform while still remaining committed to a sense of justice for victims. I recently introduced a package of bills that affect the criminal justice system in ways that I believe strike the appropriate balance between justice and mercy.
We all want to protect the privacy of juveniles, especially when a foolish childhood decision could affect future opportunities like employment or education. However, that has to be balanced with the safety of others. Current law prohibits any form of information sharing between law enforcement, the court system, and local school districts, even when a pending juvenile case involves threats of school violence. That is why I filed House Bill 1496. When a juvenile criminal case involves threats or evidence of impending violence against a school district campus or facility, that information should be shared with the affected school district for preparation if necessary. HB 1496 does exactly that by requiring information indicating potential violence against a school to be shared with the affected school district. It seems unfathomable to me that this wall would exist between our juvenile justice system and school districts. We must ensure that bureaucracy doesn’t stand in the way of a district knowing information about a potentially harmful threat.
During an emergency situation, law enforcement must secure the surrounding area to protect the individuals affected as well as those passing by the emergency area. Unfortunately, this can also delay getting qualified emergency response personnel into an accident scene to provide life-saving medical attention. House Bill 1497 would allow emergency medical personnel to receive a special marker on their driver’s licenses so they can be easily identified in an emergency situation. Waiting for an ambulance to arrive is not always possible, but without knowing the identity of the person seeking access to the crash site, it would be irresponsible for an officer to allow unidentified individual access. HB 1497 gives emergency medical personnel an easily identifiable marker so they can step in when necessary in order to assist in the event of an emergency when other medical personnel are not readily available.
I cannot fathom the level of depravity it takes for an adult to sexually assault a child. Over the interim, I read the heart-wrenching case styled Lee v. Texas, 537 S.W.3d 924 (Tex.Crim.App. 2017). In this case, a man was arrested and charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child for sexually abusing a child on multiple occasions. The continuous charge carries a higher level of punishment than a single incident of sexual abuse of a child. Unfortunately, the defendant was deemed ineligible for the higher charge because the additional acts occurred outside of Texas. I filed House Bill 1498 to address this situation and allow for the higher penalty to be charged in a similar case. HB 1498 would allow a sexual assault of a child that occurred in another state with a similar law to Texas to be considered for the higher level of penalty. Artificial political boundaries should not shield perpetrators from the full level of justice which is due.
Crime victims will never truly be whole. The fear will always exist following any kind of violent crime, theft or robbery. But we can make sure that we give them every tool available when they are due to financial compensation. House Bill 1499 would give a victim of a Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmate the ability to take a final court order to the Comptroller’s office in order to give the victim access to any property belonging to the inmate within the Comptroller’s Unclaimed Property Fund. The Unclaimed Property Fund is an account maintained by the Office of the Comptroller consisting of property belonging to Texans that has been reported as unclaimed. Current law does not allow victims to have access to this property, essentially leaving it protected until the inmate claims the property. By allowing victims to have access to these funds, we can make sure that they receive the compensation they are due to their assailants.
I hope with these bills that we can move Texas closer to making sure victims are cared for, that justice is truly served, and that we focus our resources where the greatest impact will be felt.