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HB 3903, private jail accountability bill, to be heard by Texas house

HB 3903, a private jail accountability bill filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr, will be heard by full Texas House tomorrow during the Local and Consent portion of the House session.  The bill takes a number of steps regarding to private jails including:

  1. Subjecting private prison corporations to the same open records law as public facilities.  Currently, private jail records are not subject to open records law,
  2. Mandating public hearings before a county may privatize their jail facilities, and
  3. Making it illegal for a public servant such as a Sherrif to be paid by a private prison corporation in addition to his/her salary.
We will post as soon as we know the results of the house vote tomorrow. 
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HB 3247 Heard in Committee

Last week, Texas lawmakers heard HB 3247 a measure impacting county jail contracts and requires collective bargaining agreements.  Specifically, the bill voids any county contracts with private prison operators unless:

  •  The county enters into the contract in a collective bargaining agreement between the county and sheriff's department employees.

We hear that the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) supports HB 3247. 

Texas statute already voids contracts if it is proven that county commissioners, elected, or appointed peace officers has a financial interest in the private management company. 

Lawmakers are considering other bills that impact private jail contracts as well.  

We will keep y'all posted on the developments of HB 3247 and other proposed legislation.

HB 3903 Moves out of Committee

Bob reported a few weeks back about HB 3903.  Legislators voted the proposed measure out of committee earlier this week.  HB 3903 is important in light of scandals covered on this blog in recent years regarding the bribes taken by county officials. 

The measure:

  • Outlines conditions that county commissioners courts may enter into contracts with private operators to manage local jails; and
  • Creates a state jail felony for receiving a personal benefit from for private jail contracts; and
  • Holds private jails accountable under Texas open records laws.

TPB recognizes that sentencing enhancements contributes to the same flawed social policy approaches that lead to over incarceration in the first place.  We wonder if there is a way to hold corrupt county officials accountable without contributing to another body in another jail cell.  Of course, the answer is easy for elected sheriff's who manage these jails.  And surely there is away to deal with other corrupt county officials that voters don't elect?

According to the fiscal note provided by the Legislative Budget Board, the sentencing enhancement included in the bill would not significantly impact the state's criminal justice system. 

TPB has previously covered bribery scandals in the following posts:

    We will continue to track HB 3903 as it moves.  Stay tuned....

HB 3903/Private Prison Oversight Hearing on Monday

HB 3903, a bill filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr. that provides several oversight mechanisms for private jails, will be on of a long list of bills heard by the County Affairs Committee on Monday.  Here's the committee announcement:

COMMITTEE: County Affairs   
TIME & DATE:  2:00 PM or upon final adjourn/recess, Monday, April 06, 2009
PLACE: E2.016

Amongst the several aspects of the HB 3903:

  1. Requiring public hearings in each County Commissioner's district before privatization of a county jail.  Notice of the public hearings must be posted 30 days before a the hearing is held,
  2. Prohibiting a county employee or public officials, including a county Sheriff, from receiving a financial benefit from a jail contractor.  This has been an issue in McLennan County where County Sheriff Larry Lynch receives a $12,000 salary from private prison corporation CEC/CiviGenics in addition to his county salary.  The Sheriff was notably quiet when his officers protested jail privatization, and
  3. Subjecting private jail facilities to the same open records laws as publicly operated facilites for data related to facility operations. 

Check back for updates what transpires on Monday.

More Legislative News

During the last week to file new bills, state legislators introduced measures that impact private prisons and jails in the state of Texas. 

  • HB 3247:  Requires counties that contract with private prison companies to run local prisons and/or jails to participate in a collective bargaining agreement with sheriff department employees; and
  • HB 3903:  This bill would require hearings to be held at the county level in each county commissioner's district prior to the commissioner's court vote on a private prison or jail contract.  The measure also penalizes public officials who personally benefit from a contractual relationship with a private prison corporation.
Both bills increase transparency in decisionmaking among local lawmakers considering a private a jail, prison, or detention center.
Also, we have covered previous scandals that may have resulted in the part of HB 3903 that penalizes public officials who benefit from relationships to private prison profiteers.  
As with other legislation impacting the Texas private prison industry, we will work to keep y'all posted about how these measures navigate the Texas legislative process.
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Sen. Hinojosa Introduces Bills that Impact Texas Private Prisons and Jails

Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa introduced two measures this week that address private prisons and jails in the state of Texas.  The state senator has been a strong proponent of strengthening oversight of privately run correctional facilities and questioning why private prisons are needed at all.

Senator Hinojosa filed the following measures earlier this week:
  • SB 1680:  This legislative proposal requires voters to approve bonds used in the financing of constructed correctional facilities; and
  • SB 1690: The bill extends oversight authority to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to monitor county jails that only house federal prisoners.  This contract relationship is usually undertaken between counties and private prison companies.  Bob recommended a similar solution to the Senate Criminal Justice committee last year.  
We will keep y'all posted about these bills and others that impact private prisons and jails through the end of the 81st Legislature.
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