Officials see room for improvement in criminal history reportingFree Access

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton on April 11 sent a joint letter to eight state criminal justice agencies and associations, urging them to review their processes for reporting criminal history to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or “NICS.” 

The NICS checks available records on persons who may be disqualified from receiving firearms. Abbott and Paxton said a recent study found that only 68 percent of arrests in state criminal history files nationwide were reported to the NICS. But Texas’ overall rate is 84 percent, with a 95 percent reporting rate for arrests within the past five years. 

Recipients of the letter included the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Office of Court Administration, Sheriff’s Association of Texas, Texas Police Association, Texas Court Clerks Association, Texas County and District Clerks’ Association and Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

 “We congratulate you on this success, but there continues to be room for improvement,” Abbott and Paxton wrote. “Our goal is 100 percent reporting of final dispositions statewide. We encourage you to review your processes to ensure that all relevant information is being reported.”

Federal law, the officials said, disallows the transfer of firearms to any person who is:

— A fugitive from justice;

— Uses or is addicted to controlled substances;

— Has been adjudicated “mentally defective” or committed to mental institutions;

— Subject to a domestic violence restraining order; or

— Convicted of a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence charge crime or is under indictment for such a charge.

All criminal justice agencies in Texas, including court clerks, are required to report information that identifies people ineligible to possess firearms to the Department of Public Safety through the Criminal Justice Information System. The rules are outlined in state Code of Criminal Procedure. The information then is provided to the NICS database.

“NICS is vital to making sure guns stay out of the dangerous hands of individuals with a high risk of committing violence,” Paxton said. “By doing everything we can to ensure that all relevant information is being reported timely and accurately to NICS, Texas can help prevent shootings before they happen and save lives.”

Death count is amended

The Texas Department of State Health Services on April 9 announced that a new study by its own researchers found the number of maternal deaths in Texas in 2012 was less than half the number previously reported. 

Published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the study determined there were 56 maternal deaths among Texas residents, compared with 147 reported in national statistics.

The study shows dozens of women were identified on their death certificates as being pregnant at the time of their deaths, when they were not, the DSHS said.

“This more accurate, verified data is an important part of our ongoing work to improve maternal health in Texas,” said Dr. Manda Hall, DSHS associate commissioner for Community Health Improvement. “Better data will improve our ability to implement and assess ways to reduce maternal deaths and other severe pregnancy complications.”

DSHS said it is implementing legislation aimed at improving the quality of death data by developing best practices for investigating and reporting maternal deaths.

Also, the department said it is creating new training for medical certifiers such as doctors, justices of the peace and medical examiners. Finally, the department is developing a new registration system to prompt certifiers to confirm the pregnancy status before allowing a death record to be submitted.

Funding is announced

Gov. Abbott on April 10 announced that Texas had been awarded some $5 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for disaster recovery from Hurricane Harvey and previous flood events. 

“The additional Community Development Block Grant funds announced today will inject billions of dollars that are desperately needed to help restore our communities,” said Abbott.

HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program for the rebuilding of housing, businesses and infrastructure is the source of the funding. It comes from supplemental funding recently passed by Congress.

Allocations are sent

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 11 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $651 million in local sales tax allocations for April.

The amount is 5 percent more than was distributed in April 2017. 

Local sales tax allocations are based on sales made in February by businesses that report tax monthly.

ed  sterling is the Director of Members Services at Texas Press Association.

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