Sunday, June 21, 2015

In an extremely rare moment of lucidity

The Texas legislature, normally a cauldron of bubbling right wing insanity, passed a law rescinding criminal penalties for school truancy. After which they went back to their usual evil ways.

A long-standing Texas law that has sent about 100,000 students a year to adult criminal court for missing school is off the books, though a Justice Department investigation into one county's truancy courts continues.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed into law a measure to decriminalize unexcused absences and require school districts to implement preventive measures, The Texas Tribune newspaper reported. The new law will take effect Sept. 1.

Reform advocates say the threat of a heavy fine – up to $500 plus court costs – and a criminal record wasn't keeping children in school and was sending those who couldn't pay into a criminal justice system spiral. Under the old law, students as young as 12 could be ordered to court for as few as three unexcused absences in four weeks. Schools were required to file a misdemeanor charge of "failure to attend school" against students with more than 10 unexcused absences in six months. And unpaid fines landed some students behind bars when they turned 17.

"Most of the truancy issues involve hardships," state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said. "To criminalize the hardships just doesn't solve anything. It costs largely low-income families. It doesn't address the root causes."...

Al Jazeera reported on the effects of truancy laws in Texas, and efforts to change it, in a three-part series published in May. The report found that in Fort Bend County, a Houston suburb, African-American children were the focus of more than half of all truancy cases, but comprise just 29 percent of the student population.

Texas Appleseed was among several groups that filed a U.S. Justice Department complaint about Dallas County's specialty truancy courts, which in 2012 prosecuted over 36,000 cases, more than any other Texas county. The Justice Department in March began looking into whether students had received due process, something spokeswoman Dena Iverson said will continue as the department evaluates the new legislation's impact.

All past truancy convictions will be expunged under the new law. But what will happen to students' pending fines will be up to the courts to decide, said David Slayton, executive director of the Texas Judicial Council.

Districts will still have the option of sending students with 10 unexcused absences over six months to court, but it will be civil court, with treatment and community service among the sentencing options.
Expunging the records is damned decent of them, let us hope they are not a bunch of assholes over the fines.


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