death penalty news—–TEXAS

June 5


How Austin dealt with our priority list

When the 2009 Texas Legislature began way back in January, we outlined
five major priorities. If lawmakers addressed them in the right way, we
believed, they would improve the quality of life for Texans everywhere,
including right here in North Texas.

We have already opined about one of our priorities: giving communities the
option to raise local funds to finance roads and rail. That effort failed
miserably, and we took Austin to task. We also applauded the Legislature's
decision to create more Tier One research universities. That, too, was an
important goal.

Here's how the rest of the list looks after 5 months of writing bills,
conducting hearings and casting votes:

Death penalty

The odds against reforming much less stopping capital punishment in
Texas are as long as they get in the tough-on-crime Legislature. Yet
lawmakers made incremental changes that indicate they know that the
criminal justice system is not airtight.

What changed: One move had important symbolism: The House formed its first
committee on the death penalty. Lawmakers also sent the governor a bill
creating a new office to provide qualified counsel to indigent death row
prisoners for certain appeals.

What didn't change: It's regrettable that other vitally needed reforms
fell short, like a bill that would have banned joint trials in capital
murder cases and prohibited the death penalty for accomplices who did not
kill. Another glaring shortcoming was lawmakers' failure to require police
agencies to modernize their photo lineup practices.

After years of trying, supporters of a special innocence commission to
examine exonerations got a weakened bill. Pending the governor's
signature, a new advisory panel will assist in a study on whether a
full-fledged innocence commission with authority should be formed to
tackle systemic changes in the justice system.

With the record run of DNA exonerations in Texas, particularly in Dallas
County, the need is clear.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)