As Texas looks forward to the 84th Legislative Session, scheduled to begin on January 13, 2015, part of the preparations include “interim charges” released by the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House to study topics that are expected to be debated during the upcoming session. The process includes the appointment of committees assigned to cover specific topics, who will then hold hearings, conduct research, and hear testimony from policy experts and members of the public.
Among the interim charges released last month by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst were two important topics for the Jurisprudence Committee: reforms to anti-truancy laws and the rules for deferred adjudications and the expunction of criminal records.
Regarding the issue of truancy laws, currently, Section 25.094(e), Texas Education Code, classifies failure to attend school as a Class C misdemeanor. The interim charge on this issue was to “determine the feasibility” of removing failure to attend school as a criminal offense and instead handle it as a civil offense.
Derek Cohen, a policy analyst with the Center for Effective Justice and the Right on Crime campaign at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, had a positive view of this interim charge. “It’s great that the Lieutenant Governor is looking at the criminalization of truancy,” he told Breitbart Texas, noting that Texas was one of only two states that use the criminal justice system to handle school truancy, and that Section 25.094 was redundant with other laws in the Texas Family Code. “I’m eager to see what steps will be taken to remove this confusing and superfluous law,” he added.
Earlier this year, Cohen co-authored a report titled, “Kids Doing Time for What’s Not a Crime: The Over-Incarceration of Status Offenders,” which addressed the criminalization of what is known as status offenses, or acts that would not be considered criminal if committed by an adult, like being truant from school. In the report, Cohen and his co-author, Center for Effective Justice director and Right on Crime policy director Marc Levin, argue that criminalizing status offenses like truancy has “proven to be costlier than alternatives, [is] largely ineffective (and in some cases, counterproductive) at enhancing public safety, and [is] detrimental to the youth’s development.”
Cohen also approved of the second topic addressed in the interim charges for the Jurisprudence Committee, sealing and expunction of low-level criminal offenses, saying that expanding the availability of these options would balance Texas’ status as a “tough on crime” but also “smart on crime” state. “Criminal records of minor deviance or juvenile misbehavior have the potential to haunt individuals well past their point of maturity,” he stated. “After a certain time period, minor, non-violent offenses should only be available to police, prosecutors, and judges. This will allow offenders to move beyond their past mistakes and contribute to the ever-growing Texas economy.”