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Texas Lawmakers Send Sandra Bland Act For Full Vote In The Senate

Sandra Bland, who was found dead at the Waller County Jail in 2015.

State lawmakers are sending the Sandra Bland Act for a full vote in the Senate. The bill is named after a black woman who died in police custody in Waller County in 2015.

The bill successfully made it out of committee Tuesday, but a lot was left on the cutting room floor. The bill now focuses on mental health care in jail, but they removed new rules that were intended to prevent officers from arresting people for offenses that are supposed to be punished by fines.

An independent policy analyst argued that important policies had been dropped from the legislation. The bill’s author, Houston Democrat John Whitmire, pointed out that the compromise was critical.

During the hearing, Whitmire responded, “This is primarily a mental health accountability — when we admit someone, that the questionnaire will trigger the responses because they have a mental health condition. If we made it as comprehensive as it was when we introduced it, we probably wouldn’t be having this hearing today.”

The language removed from the Sandra Bland Act could still make it to the floor. A separate bill carried by Fort Worth Republican Konni Burton, SB 271, would prohibit an officer from arresting an individual for an offense that’s punishable only by a fine.

Last month, the House heard its version of the Sandra Bland Act. Sandra Bland’s mother attended the hearing and gave emotional testimony in support of the bill. The bill is pending, still awaiting a vote by committee members.

The Legislature is set to gavel out at the end of the month, so bills are now in a race against time. In order to be passed this session, the Sandra Bland Act still needs to be voted out of committee by the House, then put to a vote on both the House floor and the Senate floor – and the clock is ticking. 

Jen Rice is a legislative intern with the Texas Station Collaborative, a statewide partnership among the following public radio stations: KERA, KUT in Dallas, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, Houston Public Media and Marfa Public Radio.