Texas House passes the Sandra Bland Act

The Texas House initially approved the Sandra Bland Act on Friday with a unanimous vote. The body now has to vote on the mental health bill one more time before it reaches Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Senate Bill 1849 would mandate that county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, make it easier for defendants with a mental illness or intellectual disability to receive a personal bond and require that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.

The bill is named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in the Waller County Jail days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. The arrest followed a lengthy argument between Bland and then-Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia.

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire struck several provisions from the original bill amid criticism from police groups that it would hamper law enforcement’s work, including adding extra steps to legally secure a consent search. Bland’s family expressed disappointment in the Senate version of the bill, calling it a missed opportunity because it removed language relevant to Bland’s stop.

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The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, and other lawmakers have said they understand the disappointment, but there will be other opportunities to address in legislation interactions with police.

“It is time that we make progress in criminal justice reform that will keep both law enforcement and the public safe and prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland’s,” Coleman said in a statement after the vote. “The Sandra Bland Act will have a tremendous impact on mental health in Texas’ county jails and will act as a building block to improve upon in the future.”

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