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Strap On Your Morals Snuffing Free Speech House Bill 1074 When districts were redrawn after the 2000 Census, Rep. Betty Brown’s home district in the Dallas suburbs got attached to rural Henderson County, an East Texas spread of pines, creeks, and meth labs. So Brown opened an office in Athens and beat a local Democrat in the 2002 election by 60 percent. This session, she has filed legislation that will ease the lives of her pine-curtain constituents, who fight the loss of agricultural and manufacturing jobs, toil under perpetual racism and homophobia, and strain against the meth epidemic: She’s going after snuff porn. House Bill 1074 would define some material depicting “murder, capital murder, sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault” as obscenity. These new types of obscenity would follow child porn in the penal code. To produce, promote, or distribute these latest obscenities could lead either to a state jail felony Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vetted the bill to ensure it doesn’t abridge free speech; the Liberty Legal Institute, an arm of the far-right Free Market Foundation, also gave her office a thumbs-up. “It actually, to my knowledge, doesn’t raise any constitutional issues,” Brown told the Observer. “We are simply expanding the definition of ‘obscenity’ to cover these extremely violent acts.” First Amendment 101: Expanding the definition of obscenity always raises a constitutional question. Like libel and slander, obscenity is illegal speech; the First Amendment doesn’t protect it. HB 1074 would seem to affect only pornography, because state law discusses obscenity as strictly sexual material. But the possibility would remain that some backwoods prosecutor could charge a video-store employee for stocking Sin City or A Clockwork Orange. Brown insists it won’t happen. “It will not prohibit TV programs such as “The Sopranos” or movies such as Sin City,” she said. “There’s just such a proliferation of pornography right now and we have to filter out the worst of it.” But her bill gets extremists thinking. When the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing discussed the bill, Rep. Debly, “Would this also include video games like Grand Theft Auto?” Though Brown appears more interested in planting ideology than in weeding out rural Texans’ problems, it doesn’t look like she’ll get the chance with this bill. While the House passed HB 1074, it was late in getting referred to a Senate committee. At press time, it looks like it might be snuffed. Lock This Bill Up Senate Bill 1305 Senate Bill 1305 would amend the Health and Safety Code to extend the period of time that a person could be involuntarily detained in a mental facility without a hearing from 24 to 72 hours. Sen. Kim Brimer says the purpose of the bill is to allow mental facilities more time to stabilize a detained patient. The bill analysis states that if a patient is released without a thorough evaluation, they could potentially be harmful to themselves or others. But consumer advocates wonder if Brimer’s bill is an example of control trumping care. Beth Mitchell, an attorney with Advocacy Inc., says there is already a procedure in place to keep an unstable patient for 72 hours. During an emergency detention, a physician will assess a patient’s mental state. “If the physician determines that the individual is unstable they can file an Order of Probable is filed, the patient is granted a hearing in which a court decides whether they need further observation. If the court determines that the patient is unstable, the judge can order a 72-hour detention. Brimer’s bill would bypass the hearing altogether. By doing so it could also eliminate the opportunity for courtordered treatment when a patient refuses care. “So now they will stay in a facility for 72 hours without treatment, whereas, filing for an OPC would allow the patient to be treated immediately,” says Mike Halligan, Executive Director of Texas Mental Health Consumers. When the bill was heard in committee, officials from the Texas Guardianship Association testified that mental facilities have seen an increase in patients with drug-induced psychosis or overdose. These patients require a period of detox before the facility can assess their mental stability, and extending the detention time would solve this problem. Halligan believes that there is no merit to this claim. “The law already provides that any necessary medical care [including detox] be done before the mental assessment and before the 24hour emergency detention begins,” says Halligan. It does not require patient consent. Halligan warns that a 72-hour detention could turn into as many as seven days. The detention period does not cover weekends and holidays, so if the 72 hours falls on one of those days, a patient could be looking at a week without a hearing. “These people have jobs and children that they have to take care of,” says Halligan. Brimer’s change also won’t come cheap. “You have to provide them [emergency detention patients] beds and food, and these things are not free,” says Halligan. He estimates that it could cost the state as much as $250 to $300 per day per patient. SB 1305 was reported favorably from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 27, 2005