April 25, 2007
"Jessica's Law" passes out of Senate

And speaking of "Jessica's Law", it's out of the Senate and into a joint committee.

The Texas Senate passed its long-awaited "Jessica's Law" Tuesday to protect children from sexual predators, but it reserved the death penalty for those twice convicted of the most heinous child rapes.

The bill also creates a new offense for "continual sexual abuse" of a child, increases penalties for certain child sex offenses and removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sex crimes.

"I am confident that this legislation will help protect the safety of our children and send a clear message to those who would prey on them. Don't do it," said the bill's author, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville.

The Senate's bill now returns to the House, where members can concur or call for a conference committee to work out differences.

Unlike the conference committees for the HPV vaccine and toll road moratorium, this one is under little time pressure. Governor Perry can't wait to sign it.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the only dissenter in the 30-1 vote, said he's concerned about expanding the death penalty in Texas when DNA tests have exonerated several inmates who served time for crimes they didn't commit.

"All of us have to make tough choices, but at some point we have to know where to draw the line between what's politically right but morally wrong," he said.

He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the death penalty for the rape of a 16-year-old girl was unconstitutional because death should be reserved for murder.

There's sure to be a Supreme Court ruling on this law as well eventually. Given the nature of the Roberts Court, however, I wouldn't be so confident that it'll be struck down. Nonetheless, kudos to Sen. Ellis for his stance, and for reminding us of how problematic the death penalty has been in Texas. Grits has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 25, 2007 to That's our Lege