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The Botham Jean Act Heads to Gov. Abbott's Desk. What's Next for Policing in Texas?

Bo's Law passed the state Senate.EXPAND
Bo's Law passed the state Senate.
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Throughout this legislative session, policing was a major theme for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. While Texas Republicans banded together to “back the blue,” many Democrats moved to impose police reform measures.

Earlier this week, one law enforcement-related bill inspired by a Dallas man's death passed the state Senate.

DeSoto state Rep. Carl O. Sherman filed House Bill 929 in honor of Botham Jean, the 26-year-old accountant who was shot and killed in his Dallas apartment by an off-duty police officer.

In a news release, Sherman said it was “exhilarating” to report to Jean’s family that the Senate had unanimously passed the Botham Jean Act, which relates to officers’ use of bodycams.

It's historic that a bill regarding systemic accountability in policing made it through both chambers, Sherman told the Observer. Even though it was an uphill battle to get Bo’s Law passed, he’s excited that lawmakers got it done.

“As I’ve spoken to many of the police agencies and lawyers through this process, and fellow legislators, we have all been focused on that one goal,” Sherman said. “And to have it passed and now be on the governor’s desk, I’m just thankful. I’m thankful to God.”

Bo’s Law, which enjoyed bipartisan support, will ensure that accountability and truth prevail in law enforcement, Sherman said in the news release. He hopes Gov. Greg Abbott will sign the bill, making communities safer statewide.

From her home in St. Lucia, Botham Jean’s mother said the family met news of the bill’s passage with “elation,” according to the release. It’s a tremendous step in correcting some of the systemic problems plaguing today’s society, she said, which all too often lets “corrupt police officers” off the hook after "committing heinous acts on innocent people.”

Still, one of the bill’s initial provisions was removed prior to passage. It would have clarified the castle doctrine, which lets people use deadly force when an intruder enters their home.

The officer who killed Jean, Amber Guyger, claimed she mistook him for a burglar. Guyger lived in the apartment directly below Jean’s and said she thought she was in her own home.

Appearing on Fox & Friends last September, the governor touted what he called his “Back the Blue” pledge. He encouraged political candidates to sign it ahead of the 2020 general election.

Abbott told FOX that he was working to prevent the types of crime cropping up in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York from taking root in Texas.

“In Texas, we are going to back our law enforcement to prevent mayhem in our communities,” he said.

Another bill lauded by Republican lawmakers, HB 1900, passed out of the Senate earlier this week. The measure would punish cities that defunded their police budgets by redirecting some sales taxes for state use.

Democratic Dallas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett was a fierce opponent to that bill, especially given that it would only pertain to 11 cities, including Dallas.

Republican lawmakers aren’t approaching the problem in a way that will fix the core causes, she told the Observer in mid-May. Instead of local governments creating their own solutions, the bill would let the state dictate their moves.

“It really ties our hands at a time that we shouldn’t have our hands tied because it doesn’t allow for you to make any cuts in your budget to law enforcement. Ever,” Crockett said.

Meanwhile, some law enforcement leaders have come out against the state’s so-called constitutional carry bill, which allows Texans to carry a gun without a license, training or background check. Critics have pointed out that Abbott expressed support for the measure despite such pushback.

Standing outside the state’s Capitol in April, Dallas Police Department Chief Eddie Garcia spoke out against the bill. Other departments nationwide also condemned the legislation, including Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We do not support it,” he said, according to CNBC. “It is not needed … So [Abbott’s] either going to support [police] in word and deed, or only in word.”

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