During the debate on HB 8, there were several people who valiantly tried to amend the bill to improve it or who spoke eloquently on the floor against the death penalty provision in the bill, either today or last week, including Representatives Dutton, Turner and Hodge. Special thanks to them.
Thank you also to all the 24 members who voted against HB 8, mostly because of the death penalty provision. When the U.S. Supreme Court finds the death penalty in this bill unconstitutional, these members will be able to say “told you so”.
Allen; Bolton; Burnam; Castro; Cohen; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Dukes;
Dutton; Farrar; Giddings; Hernandez; Hodge; Howard, D.; McClendon; Miles;
Moreno; Naishtat; Olivo; Pickett; Puente; Rodriguez; Thompson; Turner.
A few members felt strongly enough to have their written objections recorded in the House Journal. Thank you for taking this extra step.
REASONS FOR VOTE (recorded in Journal)
Rep. Garnet Coleman’s Statement:
Although the amendment to the bill improved the language of HB 8, and the intent of the bill is laudable without dispute, there is a constitutional concern about the use of the death penalty in cases where no life is taken. Though the sanction of the death penalty is available in other states, the constitutionality of using the death penalty in cases that do not include murder has not yet come before the supreme court. Louisiana is the only state to have an individual on death row for a sexual offense against a minor, and that case is currently before the courts. There remains additional concern that if the death penalty is a possible punishment for continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children, the victim may not report the offense for fear of sending a fellow family member to life imprisonment or death.
If this bill goes to a conference committee, and the use of the death penalty is removed, I will vote “yes” on HB 8 or similar legislation. However, in light of the current language and concerns as they exist in the bill s’ current form and in deference to the United States Constitution, I respectfully vote “no” on HB 8.
Rep. Borris Miles’ Statement:
I commend my colleagues ’efforts to protect the youth of the State of Texas from sexual predators, but this effort goes too far. I am voting against HB 8 because I believe that it is unconstitutional to take a life when another life has not been taken. I am not negating the impact that these heinous acts have on individuals but believe that this bill will cause more harm than good. In addition to the constitutional issue, it is my belief that this legislation might prevent some witnesses from coming forward out of concern that their friend, acquaintance, or relative might be put to death.
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez’ Statement:
But for the provision that allows for the death penalty for a non-murder offense, I would support this bill. Child sex offenses are heinous, evil crimes. No one in the Texas House would argue that point. But the punishment of life without the possibility of parole is a tough punishment that provides for the safety of Texas children.
Texas has never been soft on crime, particularly when child sex offenders are concerned. Current Texas law is tough: providing for a life sentence for offenders convicted of sexual assault, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping if the offender has a previous sex crime conviction. These offenders are not eligible for parole until they serve 35 years in prison. Furthermore, convicted sex offenders can be mandated to participate in intense supervision, restrictions on housing, registration, and child safety zones.
That said, there are provisions of HB 8 that I support. Life sentences without
the possibility of parole is not too tough for repeat child sex offenders. I agree
with the provision that extends the statute of limitations for the prosecution of
child sex crimes to 20 years from the 18th birthday of the victim—up from 10 years. I also agree with the provision that enhances tracking of child sex offenders.
The intent of HB 8 is praiseworthy—keeping children safe and severely punishing child sex offenders. However, the implementation of the death penalty should be reserved for murderous crimes, and I believe that the United States Supreme Court would agree with me.
Now that the House has voted to expand the death penalty, it should also take the necessary steps to protect innocent people from being caught up in the expansion of the death penalty, as well of innocent people who may already be on death row, for instance by 1) voting for a moratorium bill to stop executions for two years, 2) by voting for a death penalty study commission bill to conduct a comprehensive review of the Texas death penalty, 3) voting for the creation of an innocence commission to examine cases of innocent people who have been exonerated in order to learn how to prevent future mistakes (the commission should also be empowered to investigate strong claims of innocence from people currently on death row).