New law requires tracking family violence history

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

For 30 years, law enforcement agencies have been required by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure to report felony and non-fine misdemeanor criminal offense histories to the Texas Department of Public Safety in order to maintain eligibility for state grant funds.

Now, a new law which went into effect Sept. 1 will require these agencies also to report fine-only Class C family violence offenses to DPS, which will put additional pressure on counties and cities to make sure their reporting meets compliance.

“Every county in the state of Texas is obligated to be reporting criminal histories to the state,” County Attorney Eddie Arredondo said. “They are obligated to meet a 90 percent reporting rate, and if they fall below that standard, all of a sudden, every nonprofit or county agency or city government becomes ineligible to receive grants from state of Texas.

“That is a very serious obligation to meet on reporting and failure to comply could be putting the Boys' & Girls' Club or the Hill Country Children's Advocacy Center at risk. Any nonprofits asking for grant money could lose that opportunity.”

To help Burnet County meet the need, county commissioners agreed Tuesday to allow Arredondo's office to apply for a grant through the Gulf States Regional Law Enforcement Technology Assistance Initiative to help pay for new fingerprinting machines which can send electronic reports to DPS.

“The grant purchases the machine which is required to do the work and allows for fingerprinting to be done and it is not inexpensive,” Arredondo said. “The least expensive are $10,000 and they go up to $40,000. If we can get that cost covered, then we will have to make sure we maintain machines, which will cost about $1,000 to $2,000 per year.”

Arredondo said his office will reach out to the four county justices of the peace and the seven municipal courts located in Burnet County to offer them the opportunity to join the grant application to get new machines as well.

“If a family violence Class C assault case goes to a municipal or justice court, they will be required to report those criminal histories and that number falls into the 90 percent reporting rate,” Arredondo said. “We are going to do everything we can to offer every court in the county a chance to help us keep that reporting rate going. We want to make sure that whenever the case is disposed of, it is reported to the state.

“We are going to be asking every court in county, JP or municipal, if they want to join in our grant request and each court that joins will get a machine. If they want to be a part of it, that's good. If not, that's fine as well, but we want them to have the opportunity.”

Agencies are not required to electronically report cases to DPS, but Arredondo said Class C offenses typically are disposed of quickly and reporting on those cases could fall through the cracks if manual techniques are used.

Read more about this new law in the Wednesday, Sept. 18 issue of the Burnet Bulletin, the newspaper of record for northern Burnet County. Email a note to lew@highlandernews.com orsavanna@burnetbulletin.com. To subscribe, call 512-756-6136.

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