Lawmakers take bills hostage as session winds down

FILE - Inside a jail. (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Inside a jail. (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Out of 6,700 bills filed, only a dozen have become law and when lawmakers see their bills dying, they take hostages.

A state debate right now: should we send 17-year-old felons to juvenile detention centers rather than state jails as we do now? The argument is they’re not adults yet, with reasoning and impulse control still in development.

But the change comes with a cost. Care for those criminals would shift from the Texas correctional system to individual counties. For Travis County, that would mean an estimated $4.5 million extra. The bill’s author is willing to take extreme measures to pass it.

For the past six years, State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has tried to raise the criminal age in Texas to 18. He passed it out of the House two weeks ago. “Texas is one of only six states left in the whole country that treats 17-year-olds that way,” said Rep. Dutton.

The bill has to go through Sen. John Whitmire’s, D-Houston, who sits on the Criminal Justice committee, and he’s not going to pass it. “My commitment is to work during the interim and try to do it next session,” said Whitmire.

Dutton gave an ultimatum; if his bill doesn’t pass, he’ll kill Senate bills, including Whitmire’s. He already delayed the Senate bills he could a day, getting them close to failing. “If House Bill 122 dies, I feel like the rightful thing to do is make sure it had a lot of pals that go down with it,” said Dutton.

Whitmire says killing his bills would only hurt the people they represent and it’s not a constructive way to work. “Some of it is kind of the frustration and the anxiety of seeing the end coming,” said Whitmire. “But we’re a lot smarter as a group as we are individually.”

“That’s just the way it is,” said Dutton.

Rep. Dutton’s bill would take effect in four years. Senator Whitmire says the issue needs to be studied further.

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