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Friday, November 10, 2006

Changes to Texas House after Election

One of the big changes in the upcoming Texas legislative session impacting death penalty reform legislation will be that State Rep Terry Keel will no longer be chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, as he has been since 2003. Keel blocked many criminal justice reform bills from getting out of his committee the last two sessions. In the election last week, the seat previously held by Keel was won by a Democrat, Valinda Bolton. Keel had not sought re-election to the House in order to run for a place on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He lost in the Republican primary. No one knows yet who will be the new chair of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, but whoever chairs the committee will probably be more open-minded to reform than Keel.

Democrats picked up five seats in the Texas House in last week's election, plus in December 2006 they had won another seat in a special election. In 2003, the party split in the Texas House was 88 Republicans and 62 Democrats. In January 2007, there will likely be 81 Republicans and 69 Democrats (there is still one seat vacant after last week's election because of the death of one candidate, but that seat is likely to remain Republican).

The election results have brought up the possibility that the House will elect a new speaker to replace Tom Craddick, who has irritated many people with his autocratic style. At this point, Craddick looks likely to retain his post, but there will likely be an attempt to replace him. Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat, has asked the Texas Ethics Commission to determine whether some lobbyists are violating a law that prevents people who want to be speaker from using bribery to win the post. She says some lobbyists are pressuring lawmakers to support Craddick for another term and threatening retribution if they don't.

In 2001, there was a vote on a moratorium on executions on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. The bill was HB 1328 by Rep Harold Dutton. 52 House members voted in favor of a moratorium back then, including one Republican. 91 voted "No" on the moratorium bill. 1 person was recorded as "present not voting" and there were six absent members. A couple of the Democrats who voted "No", probably did so on procedural grounds and were in fact in favor of a moratorium.

In the newly elected Legislature that will take office in January 2007, there will be 69 members (32 D's 37 R's) who were not members in 2001 and so have never voted on a moratorium.

There will be 50 members who were also members in 2001 and voted "No". There are 2 members who were members in 2001, but were absent in 2001 when the vote took place.

There will be 29 members (28 D's and 1 R) of the Texas Legislature who were also members in 2001 and who voted "yes" for the moratorium back then.

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