The Senate Finance Committee wants to see proposals about what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would do with an extra $1 million to train lawyers and judges about dealing with mentally ill criminal defendants.
During a Feb. 4 hearing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, told CCA Judge Barbara Hervey that the committee is interested in mental-health issues because of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting.
Senate Bill 1 (see page 522), the general appropriations act, proposes a mental-health training program for judges, prosecutors and criminal-defense lawyers and seeks approval to pay for it from the CCA's judicial-education budget.
Williams asked for proposals about what the CCA would do with an additional $1 million for mental-health training.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Williams had presented an opportunity for the court to propose “proactive programs” on mental health. He also asked how the court’s current mental-health training keeps people with mental illnesses out of jail.
Hervey said she’d like to study available mental-health resources and educate lawyers about the resources so they could propose placing a criminal defendant in a mental-health facility instead of the criminal-justice system.
The Legislative Budget Board has recommended the CCA receive funding of $27.07 million for the 2014-15 biennium for court operations and judicial training. The court has requested an additional $5.39 million for multiple training programs and also wants another $1.29 million for a new staff attorney, pay raises for current lawyers, and more.
“We rely on them totally,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said about the CCA’s staff attorneys.
-- Angela Morris