2019 Legislation: Sentencing-Related Reforms & Penalty Reductions

In efforts to stem the costly flow of people into incarceration, the punishment must fit the crime and not be disproportionately harsh. The bills below will improve fairness in sentencing, reduce unnecessary prosecutions, and permit community-based supervision options.

*** The bill with asterisks below was a priority bill on TCJC’s legislative agenda.

*** HB 1279 (Author: Allen | Sponsor: Menéndez), Relating to jury instructions regarding parole eligibility. Prior to passage of this bill, when a person was found guilty of certain felony offenses by a jury in Texas, the jury received a statutorily required statement during the penalty phase regarding how individuals can earn time off their period of incarceration through “good conduct time” credits (credits for good behavior, diligence in prison work, and attempts at rehabilitation); jurors were told they could consider the existence of good conduct time in their sentencing decision.

This modifies jury instructions in three situations to correct false and misleading information:

  • For felony cases involving various violent, sexual, organized crime, drug, weapons, and trafficking-related offenses: This bill removes language from jury instructions that incorrectly stated that good conduct time could reduce a person’s term of incarceration; it leaves intact existing language about parole eligibility.
  • For felony cases involving first-degree felonies, certain enhanced offenses that result in first-degree felonies or life sentences, or other offenses with a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 60 years: This bill corrects existing language to clarify that good conduct time credits, when awarded, result in earlier parole eligibility, but do not otherwise reduce the period of incarceration. Only parole can reduce the period of incarceration.
  • For felony cases involving second- or third-degree felonies, certain enhanced offenses that result in second-degree felonies, or other offenses with a maximum term of imprisonment of 60 years or less: Again, this bill corrects existing language to clarify that good conduct time credits, when awarded, result in earlier parole eligibility, but do not otherwise reduce the period of incarceration. Only parole can reduce the period of incarceration.

Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019


HB 427 (Authors: Shaheen, Krause, Zedler, Cortez, Raymond | Sponsor: Hughes), Relating to the punishment for the offense of fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of a writing that is attached to tangible property; enhancing a criminal penalty. Prior to passage of this bill, a person committed a Class A misdemeanor if, with intent to defraud or harm another person, s/he destroyed, removed, or altered a writing attached to property (e.g., a price tag).

This bill aligns the offense level with those established for property offenses in Texas. As such, attempting to obtain property for a lesser price is a Class C misdemeanor if the difference between the original price tag amount and modified price tag amount is less than $100; the offense is a Class B misdemeanor if the difference is $100 to $750; the offense is a Class A misdemeanor if the difference is $750 to $2,500; the offense is a state jail felony if the difference is $2,500 to $30,000; the offense is a third-degree felony if the difference is $30,000 to $150,000; the offense is a second-degree felony if the difference is $150,000 to $300,000; and the offense is a first-degree felony if the difference is $300,000 or more. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019


HB 446 (Authors: Moody, Stickland, Oliverson, Frullo | Sponsor: Perry), Relating to the criminal consequences of engaging in certain conduct with respect to certain instruments designed, made, or adapted for use in striking a person. This bill eliminates brass knuckles from the list of prohibited weapons that could trigger a Class A misdemeanor offense for intentional or knowing possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale of a weapon. Also under this bill, it is no longer an offense (previously a Class A misdemeanor) for a person to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carry a club when not on their own premises, or inside of or en route to their vehicle. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019


HB 1325 (Authors: Tracy O. King, Larson, Gutierrez, Rodriguez, Burrows | Sponsor: Perry), Relating to the production and regulation of hemp; requiring occupational licenses; authorizing fees; creating criminal offenses; providing civil and administrative penalties. This bill creates a state hemp production plan, giving the state primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp in Texas. Hemp is defined as having a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 0.3 percent or less. A person can now possess, transport, sell, and purchase legally produced non-consumable hemp products in Texas. A person can also possess, transport, sell, or purchase a consumable hemp product processed or manufactured in compliance with this bill.

The bill specifies various provisions relating to cultivation, distribution, and sale of hemp – including licensing of hemp growers, testing, harvest and use or disposal of plants, retail sale, transportation requirements, and enforcement and penalties. This bill also creates offenses relating to falsifying shipping certificates or cargo manifests (a third-degree felony), falsifying laboratory test results (a third-degree felony), or violating requirements for transporting hemp material (a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000). Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 6/10/2019


HB 2835 (Author: Canales | Sponsor: Alvarado), Relating to a defense to prosecution for the criminal offense of operating a vehicle with an expired license plate. It is a defense to prosecution for driving a vehicle with an expired license plate that, at the time of the offense, the office of the county-assessor where the driver resides was closed for a protracted period and the vehicle’s registration was expired for 30 working days or less. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019


HB 3582 (Authors: Murr, Moody, White, Wray, Wu | Sponsor: Menéndez), Relating to the punishment for certain intoxication offenses, the conditions of bond for defendants charged with certain intoxication offenses, and the eligibility for deferred adjudication community supervision of defendants who committed certain intoxication offenses. This bill allows people charged with driving or boating while intoxicated to be eligible for deferred adjudication community supervision, unless they held a commercial driver’s license or learner’s permit, or they had an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more. If granted deferred adjudication community supervision, the person is required to have an ignition interlock device installed on his or her vehicle and cannot drive any other vehicle unless it is equipped with that device. Note: A judge can waive the ignition interlock requirement if, based on a controlled substance and alcohol evaluation of the defendant, the judge determines that restricting the defendant to the use of an ignition interlock is not necessary for community safety.

This bill separately creates a nondisclosure procedure for people placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for misdemeanor driving or boating while intoxicated offenses. A person can petition the court for an order of nondisclosure if s/he:

  • receives a discharge and dismissal;
  • satisfies other statutorily set eligibility requirements for nondisclosure;
  • has never been previously convicted or placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for another offense, other than a fine-only traffic offense;
  • includes evidence that s/he is entitled to file the petition; and
  • waits until the second anniversary of successfully completing deferred adjudication community supervision and the discharge and dismissal of the case.

A court cannot issue the order if the prosecutor presents evidence that the offense resulted in a motor vehicle accident involving another person, including a passenger in the petitioner’s vehicle.

Lastly, this bill makes two modifications regarding the offense of “DWI with child passenger.” (1) Prior to passage of this bill, a person charged with a subsequent offense of “DWI with child passenger” was required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle, and they could not drive any other vehicle unless it was equipped with that device. This bill requires installation of an ignition interlock on the first offense (similar to the penalty for intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter). (2) The offense is enhanced to a third-degree felony if the person has previously been convicted once of intoxication manslaughter, or has previously been convicted twice of any other offense relating to the operation of a vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, or amusement ride while intoxicated. A person is considered to have been convicted of driving or boating while intoxicated if s/he was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019