One thing that happened this past legislative session was that the Texas House continued its march against the death penalty.
The first step was taken by Speaker Dade Phelan, when he awarded the powerful Criminal Jurisprudence chairmanship to liberal Democrat State Rep. Joe Moody (El Paso). Moody just recently announced that he wouldn’t be running for a different office because of how much he was being empowered to get done by Dade Phelan.
Moody and State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano) have been teaming up to undermine the death penalty during most of their time in office.
Here are the highlights of a debate between Leach and Allie Beth Stuckey regarding a child murderer who Leach and Moody attempted to cast as a victim herself. Allie Beth destroyed Leach.
Last year Jeff Leach worked with a lot of D's and some R's to stop another execution. This is a pattern for Leach, who claims to support the death penalty.
— Luke Macias (@lukemaciastx) August 12, 2023
Dade Phelan knew what he was doing when he placed Leach on Moody’s committee and then sent all of the legislation dealing with the death penalty to that committee. HB 727 was a clear priority for anti-death penalty lawmakers.
This bill was designed as a get-out-of-the-death penalty-free-card. It literally allowed mass murders like Jeffrey Dahmer to avoid getting the death penalty when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The bill went even further than that; it allows these anti-death penalty groups to convince a psychologist to diagnose the mass murderer or repeat child rapist as being bipolar, resulting in the death penalty being off the table for that criminal.
It was filed in November, 2 months before the session started. It received a hearing in early March and was voted out the following week. It was received by the Calendars Committee on March 21, considered in the committee 2 days later, and placed for a vote on the calendar 6 days later.
To give you a comparison, just read through this list of 48 conservative bills that were killed, many that stayed in the Calendars Committee for weeks. Don’t ever believe your lawmaker when they tell you that legislation moves slowly in the Texas House. That only applies to bills that Dade Phelan and his lieutenants want to kill.
When HB 727 came up for debate, the liberal Republican coalition was truly surprised at just how strong the opposition was.
Watch the highlights of the debate below:
The first thing to point out is that Democrat State Rep. Toni Rose (Dallas) clearly doesn’t really know what her bill does, or she’s just being very deceitful to her colleagues and the public on purpose.
Second, Jeff Leach called a point of order—a procedural objection—on an amendment that would have said this death penalty ban did NOT apply to mass murderers. So, in case you were wondering if Jeff wanted it to apply to mass murderers, now you know.
The last debate observation is that Jeff Leach is incredibly dishonest during the debate. He attempts to mislead his colleagues and claims that this bill doesn’t change anything but the order in which evidence is presented. That is so obviously not true that it’s not even worth criticizing further. At one point he says this bill is about trusting our judges and jurors, but the bill is prohibiting those judges and jurors from giving the death penalty to a mass murderer who is bipolar or schizophrenic.
When the dust settled on the debate, 63 Republicans voted against the bill, but 18 Republicans voted with the Democrats to pass it.
Those Republicans were Brad Buckley, Dustin Burrows, Angie Chen Button, Drew Darby, Gary Gates, Charlie Geren, Craig Goldman, Ryan Guillen, Lacey Hull, Todd Hunter, Jacey Jetton, Ken King, Stephanie Klick, Jeff Leach, Morgan Meyer, John Raney, and Ellen Troxclair.
As I’ve pointed out many times, Democrats can only effectively run the Texas House if they can get enough Republicans to join their agenda.
Dade’s team had a problem though. This vote made it difficult for their allies to survive. They wanted to increase how many Republicans voted for the bill on 3rd reading.
So Leach teamed up with Toni Rose and Joe Moody to amend the bill. They watered down the bill just enough and gaslit enough Republicans to move a few into their camp. The amended version of the bill was still horrific.
Ultimately 48 Republicans still voted against the bill.
The Republicans who switched to vote with the Democrats to pass HB 727 on 3rd reading included:
Ben Bumgarner, DeWayne Burns, Briscoe Cain, Tom Craddick, Charles Cunningham, Brian Harrison, Kyle Kacal, Brooks Landgraf, Janie Lopez, Tom Oliverson, Jared Patterson, Glenn Rogers, Nate Shatzline, Gary VanDeaver, and Cody Vasut.
The number of Republicans who actually voted to end the death penalty for mass murderers is actually much higher than 18.
This bill was aggressively opposed by law enforcement, and rightfully so. These are the men and women that put these monsters in prison, and the ones who are fighting to ensure that justice is done.
The men and women who voted for HB 727 on 2nd or 3rd reading are ultimately upset with the decision that jurors are making. They don’t like that jurors hear the horrific truth of crimes committed and then decide to use the power that the state is granted, not only in Texas but in scripture, to enact justice.
Thank God HB 727 never even received a hearing in the Texas Senate. In fact, it was never even referred to a committee. Texans should be grateful that Dan Patrick has more respect for the justice system and for the death penalty than the Texas House.
This will be another battle next session, and it’s important to recognize that this is one of the policy areas where the Texas House is only representing the most radical citizens in our state. Polling conducted by the Defend Texas Liberty PAC in April of this year showed that 80% of Republicans, 56% of Independents, and 35% of Democrats support the death penalty. About 59% of Texas voters support it, while 26% oppose it.
Texans must expand the death penalty as Florida has done and as Donald Trump has called for, not water it down further for the worst in our society. I’m grateful that the uniparty was not successful in their efforts with HB 727. Next session, this has to be an even bigger fight.
This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to email@example.com.