December 22, 2009

From the Desk of Allen Vaught

Interim Charges
While the legislature is not in session, there is still work to be done. Speaker Joe Straus released the interim charges for the 81st Legislature last month, and has tasked the standing House committees with looking into several specific issues. Interim charges provide an opportunity for the committees to hold hearings to examine issues confronting the state and ultimately make recommendations for action. Often times, the results of these hearings lead to new legislation or become key issues during the next legislative session.

I am a second-term member of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. This committee holds jurisdiction over matters pertaining to criminal law, probation and parole, as well as criminal procedure in the courts, and revisions to the Texas Penal Code. What follows is a description of some of the charges our committee has been assigned by Speaker Straus.

Public Defender Offices
“Study how the state presently supports the establishment and maintenance of public defender offices.”

Once an appellant who is accused of a crime is identified as indigent, a district judge, county judge or jail magistrate is responsible for appointing representation from the public defender's office. In order to provide the representation that reflects the goals set forth by the state of Texas and all public defender's offices, attorneys, investigators and support staff members must all work together in order to provide the assistance needed to give the indigent appellant the appropriate legal representation.

During upcoming testimony on this charge, the members of the committee will hear testimony to fully understand how exactly these offices are set up as well as how all the offices in Texas are funded with regards to payroll, research, etc. The end result of this particular charge is to fully comprehend all aspects of how our state's public defender's offices are created and maintained.

Human & Sex Trafficking
“Study the human and sex trafficking problem in Texas. Make recommendations on best practices in the areas of investigation, prosecution, and tracking of the victims of these crimes. Study whether victims of these crimes are allowed to adequately recover from their attackers in a civil cause of action.”

In the past couple of sessions, the Texas Legislature has made great strides in the area of human trafficking, especially since Texas is the hub for most trafficking in the United States. This past session we passed House Bill 4409, which requires the Attorney General to establish a human trafficking prevention task force to develop policies, procedures, data collection, and training to assist in the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking crimes.

With an interim charge designed to investigate the criminal side of this offense and how to better prosecute individuals, along with a report due next Dec. (2010) from the Attorney General’s office, legislators should go into the 82nd legislative session well educated on how best to prevent and prosecute this crime.

Veterans Court Programs
“Monitor the implementation of SB 1940, which established veterans court programs in Texas, and examine the link between combat stress disorders of war veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and the onset of criminal behavior.”

This charge actually comes out of an amendment I added during the final days of the legislative session. Senate Bill 1940 authorizes county commissioners’ courts to establish a veterans diversion court program for military service personnel and veterans whose service-related disability contributed to their criminal offense. This pretrial court will ensure that our veterans and military personnel with combat-related mental health issues receive the proper treatment. This interim charge will look at the implementation of this legislation to see if any changes or improvements are needed, and if so, what can be done.

If you have questions regarding any of these interim charges or would like more information, I invite you to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244. Please free to email me as well at, and be sure to include your name and full address. I look forward to hearing from you.