AUSTIN - Texas representatives hosted a press conference to discuss the filing of the Sandra Bland Act, a bill named after the black woman who was arrested in Waller County in 2015 and found dead in her cell at the Waller County Jail three days later.
House Bill 2702 aims to address the "interactions between law enforcement and individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses and the confinement or release of those individuals prior to prosecution." The bill was filed Thursday by Representative Garnet Coleman (D-147).
Coleman said he felt compelled to look into issues within the Texas criminal justice system after Bland's death.
"I grew up in a time - and I'm sure many of my colleagues here and the people here grew up in a time - when this always happened. And so you know we were very surprised when all of a sudden the news - in the newspaper - things that we thought had gone away a long time ago like they say a long gone time ago were back. But they weren't only back in symbol as symbolism, they were back in force," Coleman said.
His 55-page bill aims to reform several aspects of the criminal justice system from law enforcement training to arrests to jail standards. Unlike other bills, his contains the findings from the Committee on County Affairs' hearings into Bland's arrest and death.
The Sandra Bland Act includes provisions to:
- Outlaw investigative or "pretext" traffic stops
- Outlaw consent searches
- Increase the amount of required de-escalation training for how to interact with someone with mental illness from 16 hours to 40 hours
- Bans arrest for offenses that are punishable by fines, such as traffic violations
- Require jails offer tele-magistrate and telehealth services
- Divert people with mental illness or substance abuse to regional crisis centers instead of county jails
- Require increased reporting on traffic stops and incidents
"Outstanding bill, outstanding bill," said Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback who is also the Legislative Director of the Sheriffs Association of Texas.
Louderback said the association is especially pleased with the mental health resources.
"The mental health portion has long been a concern of Texas sheriffs. We have fought for this for many years, many sessions we have tried to get the mental health resources in our county jails and we're still fighting that fight and we're still not where we think we should be three sessions later," Louderback said.
But the Sheriffs Association is concerned about funding the requirements laid out in the bill and Louderback said they oppose unfunded mandates.
Coleman attempts to address this in the bill by creating a grant program in an effort to stop any obstacle or opposition to a bill he says puts profiling practices to bed.
"And this doesn't just happen to people of color, it happens to many people," Coleman said. "But statistics show it happens more to people of color and what happens after, is most important, is that they're generally given a ticket, arrested or have their car searched. Now that happened to me when I was growing up it's not supposed to happen to my children."
"This is something we thought we had overcome. But obviously not," Coleman said.
Now, combating these issues is something he hopes lawmakers will solve this session.
Coleman said he is confident he will get support for the Sandra Bland Act in the Senate. But first, it has to be assigned to a committee and be approved by the House.
We streamed the press conference on KVUE's Facebook page:
Reporter Ashley Goudeau was at the press conference:
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