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Republican Texas Legislators Target Progressive Prosecutors

Texas Republicans are targeting prosecutors who they say refuse to enforce laws against certain offenses, a move that could limit prosecutorial discretion and could force progressive district attorneys to get tougher on crime, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Identical bills pending in the House and Senate would empower state Attorney General Ken Paxton to take civil action against a prosecutor who adopts a policy to limit the enforcement of any criminal offense. The legislation lets Paxton pursue a fine of $1,000 or more and to seek the prosecutor's removal from office. However, he would have no authority to pursue criminal action. The bills, from Rep. David Cook and Sen. Tan Parker, come as Republican state leaders vow to challenge local Democratic criminal justice policies. House Speaker Dade Phelan began the legislative session last week by threatening to rein in "rogue" prosecutors. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he wants to limit prosecutorial discretion, and Gov. Greg Abbott says he wants to end certain bail practices and adopt mandatory minimum sentences for offenses involving firearms and for smuggling immigrants. The increased scrutiny on prosecutors comes after five Texas district attorneys pledged last year not to prosecute abortion-related crimes after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal right to have an abortion. Travis County DA José Garza might find himself on the GOP radar after his office secured indictments against 21 Austin police officers who injured protesters in demonstrations against police brutality in 2020. The officers say they were protecting themselves and others.


Legal insiders are monitoring two otherl bills that would affect prosecutors. Rep. Bryan Slaton introduced legislation that prohibits prosecutors from adopting a policy to limit enforcement of an election law. Sen. Phil King proposed reestablishing a council that monitors prosecuting attorneys and has the authority to file a petition to remove a prosecutor from office for "incompetency or misconduct." If the council were to file such a petition, the prosecutor would be immediately disqualified from performing prosecutorial duties while the petition is pending. The council existed from 1977 to 1985. It would include seven members. The governor would appoint two members, and the lieutenant governor and House speaker would each appoint one member. The state Supreme Court would get one selection and would establish the process for choosing the remaining two members. Parker, who authored the Senate bill to unleash Paxton against prosecutors, said an increasing number of district attorneys are jeopardizing public safety by not prosecuting certain crimes. "Our government was built on the principle of separation of powers," Parker said. "It is the job of the Legislature to enact and repeal the laws on the books, based on feedback from our constituents. However, an increasing number of district attorneys in this state are taking it upon themselves to legislate from their desks, oftentimes against the wishes of the people living in their own communities who are left facing the consequences of their inaction."

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