State Rep. Zwiener’s cannabis decriminalization and utility shut off bills heard in committee

Driftwood, TX —  This week, Representative Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) laid out House Bill 441 in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, and House Bill 3560 in the House Business and Industry Committee/

“In Texas, a conviction for possession of a small amount of cannabis is excessive and can lead to a lifetime of harsh consequences,” said Rep. Zwiener about House Bill 441. “Young Texans, particularly those of color, too often have one small mistake that harms their ability to get jobs and financial aid. In addition, over criminalizing cannabis possession creates a significant and unnecessary financial burden on the State of Texas by contributing to growing prison populations and directing law enforcement away from violent offenses.”

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.

HB 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. 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.

On House Bill 3560 Rep. Zwiener said, “Many families struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, and the fear of eviction or having their electricity shut off is a reality for some of these families. During the eviction moratorium, some landlords have taken illegal action to force residents out of their homes by disconnecting their utilities. We must provide a strong disincentive for this illegal act that is often dangerous during extreme weather events.”

House Bill 3560 seeks to prohibit landlords from collecting delinquent rent and the security deposit from a tenant if they violate Section 92.008 of the Texas Property Code.

Under current statute, landlords are prohibited from interrupting or causing the interruption of utility service that is paid directly to the utility company.

When a landlord violates this section, a tenant is only eligible to receive the amount equal to damages, one month’s rent plus $1000, and reasonable court and legal fees.

HB 3560 would prohibit landlords who violate this section from collecting delinquent rent from a tenant and make them ineligible to keep the tenant’s security deposit, meaning that in the event of a landlord-sanctioned utility shutoff, the landlord would face a higher penalty for this action.

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