Bill Tracker: SB 159 – The Public Defender
By Karl Lynch
Tue, 05/15/2007 - 2:45pm
Denton County does not have a public defender system. Many have argued that our system of providing indigent criminal representation is superior to a public defender system. In Denton County, private attorneys that routinely practice before the courts are assigned to indigent defendants. These attorneys are paid an hourly rate by the county after approval by the judge. It is surprising that prior to the passage of the Fair Defense Act of 2001, few counties were operating public defender’s offices. Also surprising is the reality that most of the state operates like Denton County.
SB 159, authored by Senator Wentworth, is a bill of clarification. SB 159 seeks to fine tune earlier legislation on creating public defender systems. One of the key changes is allowing non-profit corporations to serve in the function of a public defender’s office. Instead of creating a new governmental entity, a non-profit corporation can be created. The funding source for the non-profit would still be the county. The bill also allows smaller counties to pool resources and create one public defender’s office that serves multiple counties.
The bill passed through the Senate with a vote of 30-0. It is now moving through the House. It does not appear to have any opposition.
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