The Texas legislature take a side-track today, away from Governor Greg Abbott's top-20 priorities, to spend time debating a bill that would radically change the way the state hands out the death penalty, 1200 WOAI news reports.
In a hearing of the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee, members will take up HB 136, which disqualify defendants with serious mental illnesses from capital punishment. It's something State Rep Toni Rose (D-Dallas) tried and failed to push during the regular session.
"These illnesses are not a choice. Severe mental illness can cripple an individual and significantly impair one’s ability to make decisions and control their impulses and understand the consequences of their actions," she said at a March press conference.
If signed by the governor, it would allow defense attorneys to ask a judge for a hearing to determine if their client had a severe mental illness when the crime was committed. Illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder would make them ineligible for the death penalty and, instead, face life in prison without parole.
Robert Dunham, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, says it's similar to what seven other states are looking at doing.
"Most Americans believe that states should not be executing people who have severe mental illness," he says. "And most are under the misimpression that it's unconstitutional to do so."
Rep. Rose's bill died in committee in the regular session and is likely to face the same fate in this compressed special session.