Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson Gives Her "Little Dog" Report From The State Capitol

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Salvage Work

It is the time in session when members are working together to save legislation that was placed late on the calendar by amending bills those that are still eligible. Last night we were able to salvage two of Sen. Ellis's bills dealing with compensation of wrongfully imprisoned persons, by amending them to S.B. 1719. Appropriations Chairman Chisum accepted the amendments and for that I think he deserves some credit. One removed the added obstacle of requiring a letter from the District Attorney that states a wrongfully convicted claimant is innocent before he can receive the compensation to which he is entitled. Many D.A.s have been reluctant to sign such certification due to various political pressures and the potential for increased exposure to litigation. This requirement has made it hard for many of these persons to get the money they are owed so they can get on with their lives.

The second amendment would increase the compensation for the wrongfully convicted from $25k/year to $50k/year, and removes the current cap of $500k. This would bring Texas compensation statute up to par with Federal Justice For All Act of 2004.

When an Innocent person is sent to prison, they are robbed not only of their freedom; they are robbed of their future. These individuals are forced to endure a living nightmare; years of their lives are stolen, opportunities are lost, and dreams are crushed.

Unfortunately, the nightmare doesn't always end after they are exonerated and released from prison. The victims of wrongful incarceration face numerous obstacles in the effort to put their lives back together. Ironically, the wrongfully convicted actually have access to fewer resources for readjusting to society than guilty prisoners when they are released--no access to job placement services, readjustment services, etc. They have resume' gaps from spending years in prison, and are released with little more than an overcoat and bus money.

As a result, a recent study of how exonorees faired upon release from prison found that a third were unemployed, 43% were earning less money than before they entered prison, 44% lacked adequate housing, and 54% did not have health insurance.
Texas has a responsibility to restore these innocents’ lives to the best of our ability. We can't give them back the years they were forced to suffer behind bars, but the least we can do is give them the support they need to rebuild the life we helped to destroy.

Good Help for Health Benefits

Hemophilia has been a health issue that I have had particular interest in this session. Hemophilia is a chronic bleeding disorder that currently has no cure. But, with all the medical advancements that we have made, hemophiliac have been able to live long and health lives. These medicines though, come at a very high price. The cost annually can be anywhere from $150.000 to $450.000.

The number of Texans affected by hemophilia is a very small percentage of the population. I authored House Bill 1600 that was a study on the lifetime benefits for hemophilia-related services, supplies, pharmaceuticals, and biologics. Representative Coleman authored House Bill 1437 which actually increased the lifetime benefits for all acute or chronic diseases. Unable to bring either of our bills to the floor for debate I felt that this issue was important, and affected so few people in our state, there was a strong need to search for a possible vehicle to amend either HB 1600 or HB 1437 to.

I worked with Coleman as well as Representative Smithee to a amend Senate Bill 23. With some reasoning I as able to persuade Representative Smithee to agree to the language of Representative Coleman's bill as an amendment. I explained that there were so few people in our state affected by these acute and chronic diseases like hemophilia and how great the cost of caring for these illnesses can strain, not only the person affected, but the family.

I was also able to work with Representative Olivera in amending the language of HB 1438 to SB 23. This amendment would provide health benefit plan coverage for men between the ages of 45 and 75 and women between 55 and 75 who are diabetic or are at intermediate or higher risk of a heart attack according to their Framingham Risk Score. The coverage provides for either computed tomography (CT) scanning or ultrasonography and covers up to $200 per test. This amendment is a way to help people detect early on if they are at high risk for cardiovascular diseases.

I am pleased that we were able to work together and successfully amend SB 23 to help out those who are afflicted with these diseases and their families.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


One of my main concerns this session has been working towards establishing a Texas Innocence Commission. I feel this is an important issue because Texas leads the nation in persons exonerated after being wrongfully convicted. I worked very closely with Senator Ellis to develop legislation that would establish a commission that would be in charge of investigating the errors in our criminal justice system that may have resulted in wrongful convictions. I carried the companion to Senate Bill 263, House bill 3996, which never received a hearing from Criminal Jurisprudence despite being referred and requested very early on in this session.

The Senate companion was heard and voted out of committee unanimously and then passed by the Senate by a 21-10 majority vote. I requested sponsorship and a hearing for SB 263 at the end of April and did not receive a hearing until the 15th of May where it was then left pending in committee until the 18th. After speaking with my colleagues I was assured that I had 6 affirmative votes. During the Friday meeting, the number of members present to pass this legislation out of committee was present at varying times, yet the bill was never brought up. Instead it was left to the end of the meeting when some members had already left. SB 263 is an excellent piece of legislation that might not received the chance for debate that it deserves.

Somewhere along the lines I feel that some of the members of the Criminal Jurisprudence committee have lost sight of the importance of this issue. Despite its current status I have not lost faith or hope in the movement of this legislation just yet.