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Forensic Science Commission bill approved, but not improved, by the Senate

I don’t know what happened with the bill to more clearly define the mission of the Forensic Science Commission, but it seems to have gone off track.

Senate Bill 1658 would let the Texas Forensic Science Commission launch an investigation without having to wait for a complaint to be filed.

“It is a positive improvement,” said defense attorney Sam Bassett, the commission’s former chairman.

But some call the bill an effort to keep information from the public and ensure that the commission is under the governor’s control.

“This has the governor’s fingerprints all over it,” said Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project.

Bassett and other critics said they worry about provisions that would allow Gov. Rick Perry to appoint all commission members. Currently, the commission’s nine members are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The bill would reduce the commission to seven members, all appointed by the governor.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that though he supports what the bill is trying to accomplish, he has “major concerns.” Allowing the governor to appoint all members is “a fatal flaw,” he said.

“This bill is still a starting point, and if it is not cleaned up, Texas will be worse off with it.”

Others are concerned about a provision that would close the public’s access to the commission’s investigations. The bill would exclude all the information from being subject to the Texas Public Information Act. It would also limit the public’s access to cases in which criminal charges are no longer pending or an appeal is in process.

“A central purpose in creating the commission was to create public faith in the investigations,” Saloom said. “If you deny public access to all this information .. there’s little sense in even having the commission.”

See here for some background. I don’t understand the rationale for these amendments. Grits has a statement from Stephen Saloom of the Innocence Project that goes into detail. I don’t expect anything better to come out of the House, so if this is what we’re going to get, it may be better to just do nothing and try again in two years.

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