For Texas' 86th Legislative Session
End Wealth-Based Pretrial Detention
In Texas’ current pretrial justice system, pretrial detention too often hinges on whether a person has enough money for bail, not their danger to other people or flight risk while awaiting trial. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that improves the pretrial justice system by ending reliance on money bail and instead moves to a risk-based system of pretrial release, which would allow most people to be released on personal bond. Texas Appleseed will also support legislation that expands the use of citation in lieu of arrest for misdemeanor offenses so that low-risk people can avoid being unnecessarily booked into jail. Making these changes will not only maximize public safety and court appearance rates, but also ensure equal justice regardless of income.
End Driver's License Suspensions for Unpaid Fines and Fees
Most Texas driver’s licenses are suspended as a direct result of not paying fines, court costs or fees — not as a result of dangerous driving. Driving is a necessity to live and work in Texas, where public transportation is limited or non-existent in most places, so suspending licenses for not paying fines and fees drives people further into debt. Texas Appleseed will support legislation addressing this problem by eliminating the Driver’s Responsibility Program and reforming the Omnibase Program (also known as the Failure to Appear/Pay Program), so that even people who cannot pay their fines and fees are able to reinstate their driver’s licenses.
Increase Fairness for People who Cannot Afford to Pay Fines and Fees in Criminal Cases
Last session, Texas Appleseed supported the passage of S.B. 1913 and H.B. 351, which improved the fairness of criminal court procedures for people unable to pay fines and fees. This session, Texas Appleseed will support legislation that builds upon the foundation laid by these two bills. For example, the law should ensure that people are able to have an existing order to pay fines or costs modified after conviction, if a person finds they are unable to pay what they owe. The law should also make clear that no person will be arrested for a fine-only offense if they voluntarily come to court to make arrangements to satisfy what they owe.
Protecting Vulnerable Communities
Because Texas Appleseed's longstanding work around disaster recovery has shown that low-income communities of color are often hardest hit and yet overlooked in recovery efforts, Texas Appleseed will work to ensure that proposed legislation related to disaster recovery protects low-income families and families of color, and does not leave their communities out of mitigation strategies to make Texas more resilient for future disasters. Any bill related to disaster recovery funding in Texas should prioritize the needs of the hardest hit and historically neglected residents and communities. Planning related to disaster recovery and resilience must ensure adequate resources are allocated to low-income communities so that they have the capacity to assess needs around resilience and develop concrete plans to fill those needs.
Safeguarding Affordable Housing
Safeguard affordable housing from attempts to make it more difficult to build, particularly those that infringe on the civil rights of Texans protected under the Fair Housing Act. Texas Appleseed will oppose legislation that requires additional notifications or increases veto points for affordable housing developments.
Payday and Auto Title Lending Reform
Texas has some of the highest cost loans in the country and is the sole remaining state to allow these loan businesses to operate as Credit Services Organizations as a way to evade state usury laws. Uncapped payday and auto title loans, with rates that can average over 500% APR, need to be reformed. They have been documented to cause financial hardship to struggling families and drain billions from families, churches, and nonprofits. Reform can take many shapes, from bringing these loans in line with other licensed lenders in Texas to create a fair playing field, to adding common sense standards to ensure that borrowers are given loans that they can actually afford to repay. Reforming payday and auto title lending would bolster local economies and enhance the financial well-being of families and communities.
Protect Families from Unjust Criminal Charges Associated with Payday Loan and Rent-to-Own Transactions
Texas law clearly prohibits criminal charges to collect debts, yet some payday loan and rent-to-own businesses continue to threaten and wrongfully use criminal charges to collect on defaulted debts and rental-purchase obligations. Texas Appleseed will support legislation seeking to reform state law to ensure that families are not pulled into the criminal justice system simply because they cannot repay a debt.
Clarify State Consumer Lending Law to Hold Online Lenders to the Same Standards as Storefront Lenders
There is currently a grey area in state law that enables some online consumer lenders to get away with making loans to Texans without being licensed in Texas or following Texas law. Online lending is growing at a fast pace and must be held to the same standards as storefront lenders to maintain a fair playing field and protect Texans from online fraud.
Enable Victims of Domestic Financial Abuse to Access Identity Theft Protections
Identity theft and the resulting coercive debts incurred through domestic abuse situations is a problem that is getting increased attention in Texas. Coercive debt transactions can cause people to stay in abusive relationships for fear of financial hardship and can hinder the ability of a survivor of domestic violence or financial abuse to regain financial well-being after abuse. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that clarifies that identity theft includes not only fraudulent debts, but those incurred through coercive consent, so that survivors of domestic violence and domestic financial abuse gain access to important tools and protections to rebuild their financial lives.
In most courts in Texas, children are shackled with some combination of handcuffs, waist chains, zip ties, and even ankle cuffs, regardless of their age, size, offense, and previous contact with the justice system and whether they present a safety or flight risk. In addition, children appear in a variety of prison garb and jumpsuits — from orange to striped to khaki to green — all of which carry the connotation that the child is guilty and mark them as such. Neither of these practices are trauma-informed; children involved with the juvenile justice system are often suffering from untreated trauma. In addition to threatening due process, these practices further stigmatize and traumatize children. Texas Appleseed will support legislation banning the indiscriminate shackling of children and ensuring that children can wear regular clothing in court, not prison jumpsuits.
Raise the Lower Age
When young children act out, their families and school community should be involved in age appropriate responses that avoid arrest and formal court processes. Texas Appleseed supports raising the lower age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that young kids don't end up in court or in jail for behavior that can be addressed in a more developmentally appropriate way.
Eliminate Criminal Convictions and Fines for Juvenile Class C Misdemeanors
While the number of Class C charges filed against juveniles has dropped dramatically since 2013 reforms eliminated ticketing of schoolchildren for minor misbehavior, for the more than 60,000 youth who are charged, the consequences are still severe. A Class C conviction results in high fines and a criminal record that can haunt youth well into adulthood, posing a barrier to college, housing and jobs. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that eliminates the criminal consequences associated with a juvenile Class C charge, so that the process more closely mirrors what young people experience when they are charged with higher level offenses in the juvenile system.
Promote the Use of Evidence-Based Measures that Improve School Climates
Often, when policymakers think about “school safety” they focus on “hardening schools” with expensive, ineffective security measures and the increased presence of police and weapons. Research shows that true school safety means creating supportive campus climates where students can build strong relationships with each other and with adults. Texas Appleseed will support legislation and budget measures that incentivize the use of research-based methods to improve school climates and discourage reliance on harmful and punitive approaches to school security.
Behavior Threat Assessments
Following the school shootings in Parkland, FL and Santa Fe ISD, the arrests of students 10-16 years old for allegedly making “terroristic threats” increased at an alarming rate in Texas. It was clear from many of these cases that the children’s behaviors were never a threat to school safety; instead, many of these arrests were due to schools taking a harmful and debunked “zero-tolerance” approach to students. Research by the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education about what works to prevent school violence led to the development of Behavior Threat Assessments—systems of evaluating behaviors in schools to determine an appropriate and proportionate response to threats of harm. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that would create Behavior Threat Assessment teams in Texas schools. The teams would implement evidence-based behavior threat assessment models, with a multi-disciplinary group of adults determining which interventions and consequences are most appropriate.
Juvenile Curfew Ordinances
Since the mid-1990s, cities in Texas have been authorized by state statute to create juvenile curfew ordinances — Class C misdemeanors that criminalize young people 10-16 years old who are out of school during the day or out of their homes at night. Since then, thousands of tickets have been issued to children across the state and a growing body of research has shown how this approach to youth is harmful and disproportionately impacts students of color. Rather than ticketing youth, cities should find ways to identify and support their needs. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that would end the harmful practice of criminalizing children for curfew violations.
School Police Training and Data Collection
The presence of law enforcement on K-12 campuses should be limited to responding to safety concerns and emergencies. Still, police officers who could potentially interact with students in schools should be required to have youth-focused training. In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed HB 2684, which required school-based police officers to be trained in de-escalation techniques, child and adolescent development and psychology, research-based school climate programs, mental health crisis intervention, and the mental and behavioral health needs of students with disabilities. Unfortunately, this training requirement was limited to officers serving school districts with 30,000 or more students. Texas Appleseed will support legislation that would expand this important youth-focused training to officers in all school districts in Texas and legislation that would require school districts that use law enforcement to report data about student-police interactions, including arrests, tickets, and use of force incidents.
Increase Supports for Homeless Youth
Lacking a safe, secure, and stable place to live impacts youths’ health and schooling, and can result in long-lasting negative outcomes. Texas Appleseed has launched a campaign, “We Do Exist,” to help provide information and resources to policymakers about the systemic failures that push youth into homelessness and the services and supports youth need to get off the streets. This session Appleseed will support legislation to increase the supports for kids aging out of foster care, ensure students who are homeless are not given out-of-school suspensions (which assumes they have a home to go to when they aren’t in school) and make it easier for homeless youth to get driver’s licenses and state IDs — key to greater stability.