Driftwood, TX — Yesterday, Representative Zwiener (D-Driftwood) laid out House Bill 441 and House Bill 160 in the House Elections Committee.
“This piece of legislation is a step forward in reforming our criminal justice system,” Rep. Zwiener said. “Instead of overly harsh consequences, I want Texans to be able to move forward from a small mistake without barriers such as difficulty in getting financial aid or finding a job. The overcriminalization of cannabis possession also creates an unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers by exacerbating overpopulation in our jails and directing law-enforcement away from violent offenses.”
More than 70,000 people are arrested for low-level cannabis possession each year, accounting for the majority of all drug arrests in Texas. These individuals are booked into jail, and those who cannot make bail may stay there until their case is resolved. Furthermore, because the sentence for a Class B misdemeanor includes possible jail time, counties must hire lawyers to represent defendants who are indigent. This costs Texas cities and counties hundreds of thousands of dollars every year that could instead be directed towards more serious offenses.
House Bill 441 would lower the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis to a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 with no possible jail time and no license suspension. Under current law, possession of two ounces or less of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor and punishable by up to 180 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,000, and up to 180-day license suspension. Law enforcement would issue a citation, similar to a traffic ticket. This legislation would also establish a deferred dispensation and expungement process for an individual’s first offense within a 12-month period, so that a small mistake doesn’t become a permanent record.
House Bill 160 allows students to be able to vote with their student identification cards, an initiative that representatives hope will increase voting engagement with college students across the state of Texas.
“Texans who begin voting young often become lifelong voters,” Rep. Zwiener said. “Many forms of state-issued identification are already allowed for voting, and allowing student IDs from our colleges and universities would help break down the barriers that young people experience when voting and improve election participation.”
Multiple groups testified in support of the legislation including MOVE Texas, Progress Texas, University Democrats, UT Student Government’s Hook the Vote, JOLT action, and other college students.
“The student is always going to have [their student ID] on them,” said Patricia Zavala, Senior Policy Analyst for Jolt Texas. “It’s a necessity, so by allowing students to be able to vote with this, they’ll be able to increase voter participation.”
House Bill 160 modifies the election code to include student identification cards as acceptable forms of identification for voting, provided that the student identification card was issued by a public institution of higher education in Texas and contains a photograph, full legal name, and expiration date. This would put student identification cards on par with the requirements of other state-issued identification and make it easier for Texas students at public higher education institutions to vote securely.