AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A Texas lawmaker has proposed asking voters to decide whether the state's highest appeals courts should have to record and post online video of its proceedings, a move that would bring the Lone Star State up to speed with 30 U.S. states.
On Tuesday, a committee will hear the proposal from Democratic Rep. Terry Canales, of Edinburg.
Canales says his Republican peers may support a recording requirement in the name of transparency. But he's less certain that they'll appropriate the cash that Texas' Court of Criminal Appeals would need to record proceedings. The Supreme Court of Texas has broadcast arguments online for years.
The amendment, which would require voter approval, would "allow the people of Texas to decide if transparency in our high courts is important," said Canales, a civil and criminal lawyer, in a recent interview.
Justice Sharon Keller was not available for a comment.
The Office of Court Administration has estimated that it would cost the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals about $300,000 initially and $48,000 annually to implement broadcasting. The chambers, located on the Capitol grounds, would need a new sound system, better lighting and cameras, said David Slayton, the office's executive director.
"We could obviously do it for cheaper," Slayton said. "But if the court is mandated to do it, we feel like there is an obligation for it to be funded."
Most states only have one top appeals court that handles both civil and criminal cases, but in Texas, the highest courts are operated - and funded - separately.
The Supreme Court has webcast arguments since 2007, but the Court of Criminal Appeals - which rules on appeals including those from inmates on death row -doesn't.
Only eight U.S. states do not broadcast either audio or video of their arguments, according to Canales' office.
'SANCTUARY CITIES' BILL DELAYED
The return of divisive 'sanctuary city' proposals in Texas has been delayed in the Senate after Democrats contended that the public wasn't given enough advance notice about lawmakers taking up the immigration bill.
Republican Sen. Charles Perry has revived measures that would crack down on local police departments that take a hands-off approach on immigration laws during routine patrols. Former Gov. Rick Perry declared the measures a priority in 2011 but the proposals never passed.
It's now unclear when a Senate committee will take up the bill.
FOSTER CARE BILL GETS HEARING
State lawmakers are discussing whether to require 35 hours of training for potential foster care parents, more than double what some are now required to have.
The House Human Services Committee is discussing the proposal by Republican Rep. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale at a Monday afternoon hearing.
Burkett's bill would broadly toughen the foster-care screening process.
Critics, though, worry the plan would make already-difficult recruitment of foster parents even more difficult.
Texas already requires 35 training hours for state foster-care recruits but only 16 hours of training for potential parents retained through private contractors.
The bill comes after 13 children died while in Child Protective Services custody in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
ANOTHER CRACK AT ETHICS REFORM
Buoyed by Gov. Greg Abbott fast-tracking tougher ethics rules proposals through the Legislature, a coalition of political and civil groups has unveiled a package of changes they're championing.
The Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign features left-leaning groups including Public Citizen, and conservatives like the state Libertarian Party.
They'd like to strengthen existing but rarely enforced conflict-of-interest rules against lawmakers voting on bills that could profit their outside livelihoods.
The coalition also wants to update campaign disclosure laws to prevent "double dipping," or officials drawing state pensions while still on the job.
Its members stopped short Monday of demanding caps on Texas' unlimited state political donations, since those aren't likely to pass the Legislature.
Abbott made ethics reforms a legislative "emergency item." Bills on the issue by top Republicans and Democrats remain pending.
The House and Senate are both back Tuesday. The House Public Education Committee is expecting a busy day taking up several bills that would expand prekindergarten in Texas, which Abbott has made a priority this session.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I'll bet a hat on it." - Tom Smith, director of the left-leaning group Public Citizen Texas, tipping his cowboy hat while telling reporters that a new Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign almost certainly won't succeed in getting all its proposed ethics rules passed.
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