FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 26, 2017
(512) 463-0120 office
AUSTIN, TX - Today, House Bill 351 authored by Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Senator Judith Zaffirini, and Representative Terry Canales was sent to the Governor's Desk with overwhelming approval from the Texas Legislature. HB 351 includes comprehensive changes recommended by the Texas Judicial Council to provide judges with new tools and procedures to hold low-income Texans accountable without jail time when they cannot pay their fines and court costs in criminal cases.
Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:
"Our current system is counter-productive, and it traps people into a cycle of debt when they cannot pay their tickets and other low-level, fine-only citations. Our current practice also leads to license suspensions and arrest warrants. In 2015, fines in over 677,00 cases were satisfied through jail credit and over 230,000 Texas were unable to renew expired licenses until their fines and fees were paid off.
HB 351 allows courts to ask about a defendant's ability to pay during the sentencing phase. After making that determination, courts would be allowed to reduce or waive fines and costs and offer community service as an alternative. In 2015, judges resolved fine-only cases with community service just 1.3 percent of the time. HB 351 seeks to put the justice system's time and resources to more efficient use by holding people accountable while saving money and increasing public safety."
As a condition of community supervision, HB 351 also allows a judge to require participation in a pretrial diversion program. Furthermore, the bill extends the "Commission to Study Certain Penal Codes" to review criminal offenses outside the penal code and updates the threshold ladder for forgery crimes related to fake checks, money orders and other simple transactions to match the penalty ladder for the rest of Texas' theft offenses. Current law designates "fake checks" to be an automatic state jail felony. This would create consistency and keep non-violent offenders out of Texas state jails.