Texas House OKs 2 bills prompted by Sandra Bland’s arrest, death


Highlights

Laws are intended to provide training for traffic stops and jailing.

Texas Legislative Black Caucus had pressed for action on the bills.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, key player in bills, says they “will make everyone safer.”

The Texas House on Saturday approved a pair of proposals prompted by the 2015 arrest and death of Sandra Bland.

The Sandra Bland Act, named for the woman who was found hanged in a Waller County jail cell three days after a routine traffic stop escalated to a confrontation with a state trooper, is meant to “minimize circumstances where someone in jail is not screened appropriately … to make sure that person doesn’t commit suicide,” Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who carried the bill in the House, told lawmakers. “I’m very proud of the mental health aspects of this bill.”

Under Senate Bill 1849, law enforcement would have to complete training in techniques for de-escalating confrontations with members of the public, “including techniques for limiting the use of force resulting in bodily injury.”

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Jailers also would have to learn de-escalation tactics and complete eight hours of training on how to deal with mental health issues of prisoners.

County jails also would have to provide prisoners with access to mental health professionals, in person or through electronic means, and a medical professional would have to review “as soon as possible” any prescription medication that a prisoner was taking when placed in custody.

Under the bill, police would have to make a “good faith effort” to divert those arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors to needed mental health or substance abuse treatment.

The bill had some key measures stripped out during the legislative process, leaving some activists and relatives of Bland unhappy.

The bill had been amended on the Senate floor, for example, to remove a provision, opposed by law enforcement, that would have prohibited officers from stopping vehicles for a traffic violation as a “pretext” to investigate other crimes. The amended bill also removed a prohibition on searching vehicles based solely on the driver’s consent.

But the Austin Justice Coalition, an activist-led organization that pushes for police oversight, still endorsed the bill.

The House approved the measure 137-0 Saturday.

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Lawmakers also voted 109-27 to give final approval to Senate Bill 30, which includes instructions for high school students and officers about how to act during traffic stops.

An amendment to the bill set up a task force to study the impact of civilian and peace officer education.

The passage of the bills comes a couple of weeks after members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus pressed the Legislature’s leadership to act on police reforms.

Coleman said the Sandra Bland Act “will act as a building block to improve upon in the future,” and, coupled with SB 30, “will make everyone safer.”

The Sandra Bland Act next heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk; SB 30 goes back to the Senate for agreement on minor changes before heading to the governor.



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