AUSTIN - Members of the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday to raise the age that someone can be charged as an adult for a criminal offense from 17-years old to 18-years old.
House Bill 122 by Representative Harold Dutton aims to change a bill that was passed in 1918. Texas is one of six states that still charges 17-year olds as adults.
While the bill does raise the age to 18, it does not prevent 17-year olds from being charged as adults for certain crimes.
While explaining the bill to his colleagues on the House floor, Dutton pointed out all the things 17-year olds aren't legally able to do.
"We don't let 17-year olds decide whether they can smoke or not because we say you can't buy cigarettes," Dutton said, adding 17-year olds also can't get a barber's license or several other professional licenses.
"We don't let them decide to get married without permission," he added. "We mandate that they go to public school because we don't give them that choice. And so, when it comes to criminal responsibility it seems to me that the state has it both ways."
Republican Representative Byron Cook (Corsicana) stood alongside Dutton and also weighed in on why lawmakers should support the bill.
"This is a true story," Cook said. "Sixteen-year-old and 17-year old - 16-year-old steals a check and he writes a check for $200 and change. He gives $80 to the 17-year old. The police get involved. They get arrested. Guess what happened to the 16-year old? Nothing. He goes on with his life. Guess what happened to the 17-year old?"
Cook went on to say the 17-year old hired a public defender who recommended he plead guilty to a felony offense that came with 10-years probation. He said at the age of 31, the young man was married with two children, but unable to get a job to support his family because of the felony conviction.
"That felony is wrapped around his neck. It is an economic death sentence for this young man," Cook said.
Opponents of the bill argue raising the age will create an unfunded mandate for counties that would have more juveniles in the system. Dutton argued the bill doesn't go into effect for two years, giving them time to plan.
He also added about 6,000 teens are estimated to be impacted by the bill and that 95-percent of the 17-year olds convicted as adults commit misdemeanor crimes.
Dutton also cited studies that found 17-year olds in adult prisons are more likely to commit another crime when they are released and end up back in jail. He and supporters hope HB122 will also address this.
HB122 now heads to the Senate. Dutton said his goal is to get Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on board with passing the legislation.
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