AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — With a week and a half remaining before the Sandra Bland Act goes into effect, lawmakers met at the Texas State Capitol to discuss its implementation.
The House Committee on County Affairs, chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, heard testimony from experts on three different panels. The groups, representing advocacy organizations, inmate health and safety, and law enforcement, offered recommendations and answered questions from state representatives.
“If implemented properly, this will go a long way towards improving the care and the treatment of people with mental illness in Texas jails, and towards improving jail safety for all inmates,” said Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law and UT Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
The Sandra Bland Act, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, is named for a woman who was found hanging in the Waller County Jail, three days after a DPS arrest during a traffic stop.
The legislation was initially targeted toward reforming law enforcement and jail procedures, but was amended to focus on inmate mental health, before passing both chambers and receiving the governor’s signature.
Bland’s family disputed claims that she had mental health issues. Her manner of death was ruled a suicide.
The law, which takes effect on Sept. 1, requires independent investigations if a person dies in custody. It also requires jail systems to divert people who have substance abuse and mental health concerns to get treatment.
Coleman questioned law enforcement officials on Tuesday about their readiness to implement the incoming changes.
“We already had a committee in place… that have been working on redoing that curriculum now, they’ve been working on it for several months, and it’s been very seamless to plug this right in,” said Chief Kim Vickers, Executive Commissioner, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
DPS Assistant Director of Education, Training and Research, Sonia Garcia, said, “as soon as we have training finalized, then for sure we will implement it in our basic peace officer courses.”
DPS said the department purchased body cameras for “every single trooper.”
“Almost $5 million that we are going to invest and equipping our people with body cameras, to supplement the in car video that we already have,” Chief Ron Joy, Assistant Director of Texas Highway Patrol said.
Jackson County Sheriff AJ Louderback, legislative chairman for the Sheriff’s Association of Texas, raised concerns about implementation.
“There are some interpretive issues that we think are very clear to us that are being interpreted a little bit differently from the jail commission,” Louderback said. “I anticipate that we will be able to get those things worked out.”
Coleman responded, “we tried to do everything you asked [with the language in this bill], but you’re reminding me why I was pissed off at you [during the legislative session].”