Vicky Camarillo

Vicky Camarillo is a legislative fellow at the Texas Observer and a master's candidate in the journalism program at the University of Texas at Austin.

By Vicky Camarillo:

Criminal Justice

Death Penalty Reform Bill Gets Watered Down to ‘Nothing’ Before Passing Senate

After passing the House, HB 1139, meant to reform how Texas decides whether a defendant is too intellectually disabled to execute, was significantly softened in Senate committee.

A House bill meant to reform Texas’ death penalty procedures for intellectually disabled defendants was amended in the Senate to the point that criminal justice reformers are now calling it “worthless.” With the end of the legislative session quickly approaching, … Read More

Politics

In the Texas Legislature’s Final Days, Republicans Find New Ways to Attack Voting Rights

After the death of a high-profile voter suppression bill, Senate Republicans passed two other restrictive measures this week.

A sweeping Senate bill that would have increased penalties for election-related crimes and made it harder for volunteers to help elderly and disabled voters effectively died on Sunday after missing a legislative deadline in the House. It was a victory … Read More

Criminal Justice

With a Bizarre Assist by Democrats, Police Groups Kill Bill to Limit Arrests for Fine-Only Offenses

A combination of incompetence and sabotage appears to have killed a police reform bill that had passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

Law enforcement’s ability to arrest Texans for crimes punishable only by fine, including traffic violations, will likely remain unchecked after House Democrats last week flubbed a bill inspired by the arrest and death of Sandra Bland that had already passed … Read More

Criminal Justice

‘The Penal System Today is Slavery’: Lawmakers Finally Start to Talk About Unpaid Labor in Texas Prisons

The 13th Amendment left a loophole for prisoners to be forced to work without pay. Texas remains one of five states that exploits the carveout for state profit.

Inmates in Texas make license plates, grow crops, tend to cattle, make soap and clothing, refurbish buses and computers, build furniture and more. They’re required to work if they’re physically and mentally capable, and the vast majority work for free … Read More

Criminal Justice

In Historic Vote, Texas House OKs Bill to Soften Penalties for Marijuana Possession

Despite approval in the House, a powerful Senate Democrat, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott could still stand in the way of the proposal becoming law.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said on Twitter that House Bill 63 is “dead in the Texas Senate,” further confirming what Democratic state Senator John Whitmire previously told the Observer. The Texas House tentatively approved a bill on … Read More

Politics

GOP Continues to Stonewall Efforts to Improve Voter Access in Texas

The “election integrity” bill that passed the Senate this week is only the latest entry into a long history of conservative-led voter suppression in Texas.

In the latest move by Republicans to make voting harder for Texans, the Senate passed a high-priority omnibus “election integrity” bill this week. The measure, Senate Bill 9, would raise criminal penalties for certain election-related offenses and create tighter rules … Read More

Economy

‘License to Discriminate’: Texas Senate Advances Anti-LGBTQ Bill

Doctors, child care providers, counselors and other state-licensed workers who refuse to provide services based on “a sincerely held religious belief” would be protected under Senate Bill 17.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday gave its initial OK to a bill that civil rights advocates say would give state-licensed workers — including doctors, child care providers and counselors — a free pass to discriminate, especially against people in the … Read More

Education

Texas House Considers Free College For Students Experiencing Homelessness

An estimated 10 percent of college students don’t have permanent housing. One measure would exempt those students from paying tuition.

Dewey Marshall has more than $60,000 in student loan debt, and he maxed out on federal aid. To supplement the grants and loans he’s received, he’s worked more part-time jobs over the last seven years than he can remember — … Read More

Criminal Justice

Texas Legislature Considers Bills to Break the Cycle of Debtor’s Prison

“It turns out that when you give someone reasonable financial demands, they actually try to meet the commitment instead of ignoring it as unpayable.”

The vicious cycle started in 2013, when a law enforcement officer in Bell County pulled over Anthony Lofton, now 62, for a faulty tail light. The officer found that Lofton was driving with a suspended license and had no car … Read More

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