Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Justice at Last!

Justice at last. Awaiting the signature of the Governor of Texas is 'the Tim Cole Act', named for Tim Cole, a veteran, Texas Tech student falsely accused of rape in 1985. After dying in prison in 1999 Cole was exonerated posthumously exonerated last year.

HB1736 "...set(s) compensation, for all cases [of wrongful conviction], to $80,000 for each year served in prison and would be prorated for a partial year. Claimants would be entitled to receive $25,000 for each year on parole or as a registered sex offender, and would be prorated for a partial year. The bill would also require the Comptroller to make equal monthly payments to claimants based on an annuity derived from the present value sum of the wrongful imprisonment compensation, interest, and other actuarial considerations at the Comptroller's discretion. In addition, claimants would also be entitled to 120 hours of state-paid tuition and mandatory fees at a career center, community college, or state university if requested by a claimant before the seventh anniversary of the date the claimant received a pardon or was granted relief."

It would also "...provide reentry and reintegration services for a wrongfully imprisoned person. The bill would include a person who has served wholly or partly a sentence operated by or under contract with TDCJ and has received a pardon for innocence for the crime for which the person was sentenced or otherwise been granted relief because of being innocent of the crime. Also, the bill would require TDCJ to develop a reentry and reintegration plan that would include life-skills, job, and vocational training for a wrongfully imprisoned person following discharge, for as long as the services are beneficial. The bill would require TDCJ to provide the following to the wrongfully imprisoned person: a state identification card and financial assistance to aid in covering living expenses following discharge, not to exceed $10,000."

"This bill cannot make people whole," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the measure's sponsor. "Surely no amount of money can make people whole, but I assure you, members, that we can do better than we're doing now...better benefits are needed because those affected, usually men falsely accused of sex crimes, have huge difficulty finding jobs and readjusting to society."

North Texas can be proud of its House delegation this time. Other sponsors for the bill were Representatives Yvonne Davis, Terri Hodge and Dan Branch; on the Senate side, Royce West and Florence Shapiro co-authored companion bill SB 2014.

Congratulations to the Innocence Project of Texas, to Jaime Page, Clay Graham and the interns from UTA, the Cole family, congratulations to the 81st Legislature, for stepping up and doing the right thing. This legislation hasn't received the publicity it deserverves. Texas now has the most generous exoneree compensation policy in the country.

Congratulations, finally, to one of the greatest groups of guys I've ever had the priviledge of knowing - the exonerees, whose patience, grace and courage made participating in this work one of the most meaningful episodes in my life!

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