Sandra Bland Act at the Capitol

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This session Chairman Garnet Coleman authored the Sandra Bland Act (HB 2702), a comprehensive bill that aimed to change the way civilians and law enforcement officers interact. Chairman John Whitmire of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice filed the companion, SB 1849.

Sandra Bland, an African American woman from Illinois, committed suicide while in a Texas jail three days after she was arrested for failing to signal a lane change in 2015. Chairman Coleman filed the bill in her memory.

At its core, the legislation will mandate county jails to direct people with mental health crises and substance use disorders into treatment, and ensure inmates are properly monitored. Chairman Coleman’s version had a public hearing in front of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety on April 11, but was left pending. The Senate companion was voted out of the Senate  and was received by the House on May 11. The bill attempts to address many of the issues related to individuals in need of mental health and substance use disorder services in county jails, identified by the House Committee on County Affairs during the interim. The following are some of the pieces CPPP is tracking:

  • The requirement that a sheriff give notice of the need for an evaluation of an individual in custody suspected of having a mental illness, a substance use disorder or an intellectual disability within 12 hours of commitment.
  • The requirement that a law enforcement agency must make a good-faith effort to divert an individual suffering from a mental health crisis or substance use disorder to a proper treatment center, when the alleged offense is a non-violent misdemeanor and the mental health crisis or substance use disorder is suspected to be the cause.
  • To the extent funds are available, grants must be made to local entities to establish or expand community collaboratives to bring private and public sectors together to provide services to individuals experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders or mental illness.
  • Prisoners are given the ability to access a physical and mental health professional at the jail or through a telehealth service 24 hours a day, or if this is unavailable, they are allowed to be transported to access their needed care elsewhere.
  • The requirement that a law enforcement officer complete a 40-hour statewide education and training program on de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques to facilitate their interaction with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis or substance use disorder.
  • The requirement that the training program for county jailers must include a mental health first aid training program provided by a local mental health authority.

Bland family members have expressed deep disappointment that the Senate stripped out original provisions requiring a higher burden of proof for stopping and searching vehicles, counseling and training for officers who racially profile drivers, and banning arrests for offenses punishable by a fine.  Chairman Coleman has said that he shares their disappointment, saying, “we all hoped for more,” while noting that the legislation still has value and carries Bland’s name. Both the House and Senate made changes to the bill.

CPPP supported the original broader scope of Chairman Coleman’s bill, and we support the current version, too.  We are thankful to both Chairman Coleman and Chairman Whitmire for their continued dedication and work to improve people’s access to needed mental health and substance use disorder services all over Texas, including jails.

Monica Villarreal joined the Center in 2016 as a Hogg Mental Health Policy Fellow. She has previously worked on advocacy for disability issues and has policy experience from working at Disability Rights Texas and the American institutes for Research. Villarreal is a native of Monterrey Mexico and moved to Austin in 2010 to attend school at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a bachelor’s degree in Government and Latin American Studies and a Master’s of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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