The 2015 Texas Legislative Session is rapidly approaching and pre-filing of bills will begin in November. Many Texas gun owners are wondering just what to expect this session and the answer is far from clear. It is certain that anti-gun bills will not pass and if they do, soon-to-be Governor Abbott will veto any that slip through the cracks, but what about pro-gun bills? To even attempt to answer this question, one must first have an idea of what issues could be addressed during the 2015 session. Then, one must realize that not all potential issues will be made the subject of a bill, so it becomes necessary to prioritize.
Some of the issues that either have been addressed in prior legislative session or that have been discussed within the firearms community are set out below. Listing of an issue does not mean that it is this writer’s opinion that a bill will ultimately be introduced during the upcoming legislative session.
The gun-related issue that has dominated the news media has been open-carry of handguns, or simply OC for short. A bill to remove the duty for a concealed handgun licensee (“CHL”) to keep their self-defense handguns concealed has been filed during the prior two legislative sessions, but the bills never made it to the House floor for debate and a vote. In 2011, HB2756 was voted favorably from committee, but it died in the House Calendars Committee. In 2013, House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee Chairman, Joe Pickett a Democrat from El Paso, never allowed the Committee to vote on HB700 so it died in Chairman Pickett’s committee.
Things were looking much better for OC supporters in the 2015 Texas Legislative Session. The NRA and TSRA both added OC to their 2015 Legislative Agenda and potential sponsors were onboard in both the House and Senate. Unfortunately, things have changed dramatically due to the political backlash against a style of OC demonstrations. Have these demonstrations and the media coverage doomed OC? Who knows!? Only time will tell, but intel at this point indicates if OC isn’t dead, it’s certainly on life-support. (See, Is Open-Carry Dead for 2015?)
HB3218 filed by Rep. Drew Springer in 2013 would have removed the off-limits areas where CHLs currently cannot carry their self-defense handguns, except for those created under federal law. It would have remained unlawful to carry a handgun while intoxicated. HB3218 was well received by the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, but again, Chairman Joe Picket never let a vote be taken on the Bill. Yet another bill of great importance to gun owners died in Chairman Pickett’s committee because he wouldn’t allow his Committee to vote.
There is every reason to believe that Rep. Springer will file the same bill in 2015 and there is a Senate sponsor as well. The key to the bill’s future will be determined by the Speaker of the House’s appointment of a Chairman for the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee Chairman. If it is again Joe Pickett then it is likely that 750,000+ Texas CHLs will continue to be required to disarm when their track record over the prior two decades proves this is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous for the most law-abiding of Texas citizens. (See, Reduce Off-Limits Areas for CHL's.)
Since the passage of SB501 in 2003, governmental entities and agencies have been unable to enforce any Tex. Penal Code §30.06 signs posted on government property that was not already off-limits pursuant to Tex. Penal Code §§46.03 or 46.035. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop some local officials from posting such signs anyway with the obvious intent to intimidate CHLs. (See, Unenforceable 30.06 Signs on Government Property.)
This practice is so widespread that HB508 was filed in 2013 and its provisions established substantial daily per sign fines for any governmental agency or entity that posted an unenforceable 30.06 sign or any other similar sign. HB508 passed the House with virtually no opposition, but it was amended in the Senate. The amendment was unacceptable to the House and the Bill was ultimately defeated in a House floor vote after even more offensive provisions were added in a Senate/House Conference Committee.
Rep. Guillen is likely to file the same or similar bill in the 2015 Texas Legislative Session and chances are very good for passage of a clean bill.
Armed CHLs attending church cannot engage in any activities that fall under the very broad definition of “security” unless they are unarmed. The inability to participate not only deprives churches of many volunteers, it prevents even rudimentary coordination among CHL holders any or all of whom would likely respond to a deadly assault on their congregation.
In 2013, two bills were filed to address this problem. HB2535 by Rep. Shaefer died in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee when Chairman Pickett didn’t allow a vote on the Bill. SB1324 by Sen. Seliger also died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without the opportunity for a public hearing.
Similar bills are expected to be filed in 2015 and they deserve widespread public support. This issue does not garner the media coverage that other high profile bills enjoy, but these are important bill nonetheless. (See Church "Security" Teams & CHL's.)
TPC §46.01(a)(8) creates an offense if one “displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.” Unfortunately, this language is overly vague and does not give sufficient guidance to citizens as to what constitutes a violation of this subsection. This provision has also been misused by some in law enforcement and prosecutors.
A bill needs to be filed to repeal §46.01(a)(8). There are other code provisions that can be used to arrest and prosecute anyone who uses a firearm to intimidate or threaten others.
Successfully competed deferred adjudications have been statutorily defined as “convictions” for purposes of CHL eligibility. Deferred adjudications on Class A or B Misdemeanors (and Class C Disorderly Conduct) render a person ineligible for five years while a felony deferred adjudication is disqualifying for either ten years or for life, depending upon the underlying offense. The definition of “conviction” needs to be amended to exclude successfully completed deferred adjudications. Innocent defendants frequently accept deferred adjudication plea bargains because they can’t afford an attorney to investigate the case and take it to trial. They are misled to believe that, since a successfully completed deferred adjudication is not a conviction, a deferred adjudication will not have any negative impact. This is patently untrue. (See, Deferred Adjudications, A Trap for the Uninformed.)
A Class C Misdemeanor is not disqualifying for CHL eligibility purposes, unless it is for an offense under TPC §46.01 – Disorderly Conduct. There is no justification for any Class C Misdemeanor to be disqualifying so this provision should be repealed. (Class C family violence convictions are permanently disqualifying, but that is covered in another eligibility provision.)
All Class A and B Misdemeanors disqualify a person applying for a new or renewal CHL, including those for nonviolent offenses. For example, a person who writes a hot check, whether knowingly or by accident, is denied the ability to protect themselves for five years. This is unreasonable and eligibility requirements should be amended such that only violent offenses are disqualifying.
The Employer Parking Lot Bill (SB321 – 2011) makes it unlawful for employers to forbid their employees from storing firearms and ammo in their personal locked vehicles in employer parking lots. Unfortunately, the law has only baby teeth and this needs to be fixed. The law (Labor Code Chp. 52) also fails to protect certain employees such as independent contractors and school teaches. Both of these shortcomings need to be fixed in 2015 by creating a cause of action (lawsuit) that can be filed by employees against employers who ignore Texas law and by extending protections to teachers and independent contractors. (See, Employer Parking Lots – Fix the Potholes.)
Current law requires the DPS to submit fingerprints to the FBI for all new and renewal CHL applications. The latest reported cost is $23.50 per submission to the FBI. This represents a cost to the State of Texas of $17,860,000 over five years with the current number of CHLs. This figure will increase as the total number of CHLs increases. Obtaining digital fingerprints and waiting for the FBI to response to DPS submissions is also causing delays in issuance of licenses.
The DPS currently conducts full computerized criminal background checks using the NCIC, TCIC and NICS databases. Nothing is gained by submitting fingerprints to the FBI. Tremendous cost savings will result from repealing the fingerprint requirement, both in terms of the fees paid to the FBI and in employee hours spent submitting the fingerprints to the FBI and reviewing responses. Delays related to fingerprints will also be avoided.
So many issues and so little time to address them all. Input from Texas gun owners will be critical to another successful legislative session, so be sure to stay informed and answer calls-to-action when they are issued by the NRA, TFC or TSRA.