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Texas continues to pass meaningful justice reforms that will ease cost burdens on taxpayers

05/26/2015

Doug Deason is a successful businessman from Dallas, Texas, whose life could have turned out much differently. When he was 17, Deason, who was raised in a wealthy family, and his friends raided a liquor cabinet at a neighbor's home. He was arrested, plead to a misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge, and sentenced to probation.

He completed the sentence required by the court and, due to his family's financial standing, was able to have his record expunged. "Every time I filled out an application for college, a loan, a mortgage, employment, etc.," Deason told members of a Texas Senate committee in April, the Dallas Morning News reports, "I never had to 'check the box' and it reminds me of how blessed I am that I was granted the opportunity to redeem my life."

Most people do not have the financial ability that Deason's family had to keep the burdens of a past mistake from hovering over their heads, which is why he supports legislation, SB 1902, that would allow more nonviolent, low-level offenders to seek an order of nondisclosure from state courts.

The bill, which had already passed the Texas Senate and was given final passage by the Texas House of Representatives on Friday, will allow nonviolent, low-level offenders the opportunity to live productive lives without having to reveal their record when they are filling out a college application, seeking a loan, or filling out a job application.

The Lone Star State is already a national leader on justice reform. In 2007, with incarceration costs straining the state's budget, Gov. Rick Perry took a new, smart on crime approach. The legislature passed sentencing and prison reforms that have saved taxpayers $2 billion in planned prison construction costs and led to the closure of three prisons. More importantly, crime and repeat offenders rates subsequently fell, further demonstrating the success of the reforms.

SB 1902 marks the latest undertaking on justice reform in Texas. The bill would expand existing nondisclosure statutes to allow more nonviolent, low-level offenders who do not engage in any further criminal activity to seal their criminal records after they have completed their sentence or probation. For many, the merits of the bill would potentially end an endless cycle of crime or financial hardship by giving eligible nonviolent offenders a the ability to pursue opportunities that would provide them with the means to be productive, tax-paying citizens, rather than burdens on the system.

A judge would have the final say as to whether an order of nondisclosure should be granted.

"I look at it as if I did something I wasn't supposed to, the criminal justice system has prosecuted me...and that should be enough," state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), the primary sponsor of SB 1902, said during the debate on the legislation earlier this month. "It shouldn't be something that haunts me for the rest of my life."

The Texas Senate approved the SB 1902 in a bipartisan 25 to 6 vote. On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives followed suit with overwhelming, bipartisan support for the bill. The final tally was 138 to 4. SB 1902 now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law.

There is no reason to think that Abbott will not sign the bill. It has support from conservatives and progressives, as well as proponents in the state's religious community. And the results of past justice reforms have been so remarkable that Texas has continued pass new policies to continue the trend. A recent poll conducted on behalf of Right on Crime, which has researched and advocated for the policies implemented in the state, found strong support for the 2007 reforms. Sixty-one percent of Texans, for example, say they prefer drug treatment over prison time, a staple of the reforms passed and implemented on Perry's watch.

Respondents showed a strong willingness to go even further on justice reform, including the merits of SB 1902. The poll found that 59 percent of Texans back allowing nonviolent offenders to seal their records while only 35 percent oppose the idea.

Texas has led on justice reform, paving the road for other Republican states to tackle these issues to reduce costs and promote public safety, and continued to push for more. Legislators have faced very little, if any, real blowback because the reforms have been so wildly successful. Red states should not be afraid to follow in the Lone Star State's footsteps. These are conservative-minded justice reforms. They are good for families, public safety, and the economy.