Dunnam Wins One (Temporarily)
It doesn’t happen very often, but House Democratic Caucus chair Jim Dunnam got a key amendment on a major piece of legislation yesterday. Jerry Madden’s bill providing for improved prosecution of crimes occurring at the Texas Youth Commission turned the cases over to a special prosecution unit that currently handles all cases involving crimes committed by inmates or staff of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Madden has done great work on the Select Committee investigating the TYC, but his bill seemed to have a few holes. Sylvester Turner was troubled by a provision that said local DAs “may request” prosecutorial assistance; what happens, he asked, if the DA chose not to refer a case to the TDCJ unit? Madden conceded that this was a problem. Dunnam’s amendment proposed that there should be a single prosecutor in charge of all TYC cases, to be named by retired Court of Criminal Appeals judges. The special prosecutor would not supplant local DAs but would work with them. Madden opposed the amendment, but his motion to table failed by one vote on verification. Then Dunnam’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 75-63, with fifteen Rs voting with Dunnam: Bonnen, F. Brown, Crownover, Gattis, Goolsby, Haggerty, Huges, P. King, McCall, Merritt, O’Day, Pitts, T. Smith, Taylor, and West. But victory proved to be transient. Larry Phillips raised a point of order–provided to him by the speaker, I was told–that the bill analysis was incorrect and Craddick sustained it. The bill now goes back to the Corrections committee, where, no doubt, the Dunnam amendment will be stripped out and the bill returned to the floor. But at least he got a brief taste of victory.