Bill aimed at curbing pre-trial donation program advances to senate committee

Photo by: Daniel Mayer

AUSTIN, Texas - A senate bill filed in the Texas legislature to help end pre-trial donation programs like the one run by the Brown County Attorney's Office has advanced before committee.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham filed S.B. 1293, which makes it a third-degree felony for a district or county attorney, or a commissioners court to accept a donation as part of a defendants pre-trial diversion program.

On Monday, her bill advanced to the State Affairs senate committee.

"Once it's heard in the committee, hopefully it passes … and goes to the senate floor," Buckingham said on Tuesday. "Hopefully we get an agreement with the house and we get something on the senate governor's desk to sign."

Her congressional colleague, state Rep. Mike Lang, filed his own bill aimed at eliminating a statue that allows Brown County Attorney Shane Britton to accept donations from misdemeanor defendants.

"When you have a defendant paying a prosecutor at that point in time, it doesn't follow the rule of law," Lang said.

H.B. 2273 strikes a section of a legislation that passed in 2007. Britton's used the original legislation to set up a Brown County Attorney Donation Fund.

Brown County Judge Ray West criticized Lang in a letter, saying that he or a commissioner be advised next time a bill involving his county gets proposed.

Lang said he spoke with West and the commissioners on Monday morning.

"We're all on the same page, everyone is moving forward ... we're all opposed to the donation program," Lang said.

Lang tells KTXS he first learned of the issues from constituents calling his office and through our investigative reports of Britton using the donation fund to go on vacations.

The representative also became aware of the criminal investigation the U.S. Attorney in Lubbock is conducting into Britton's office for allegations of corruption and bribery related to the donation program.

"All we're trying to do is repeal that section so it's not used in that manner again," Lang said.

Buckingham told KTXS her bill isn't specific to Brown County.

"We just saw the attorney general's ruling and realized that there's a little bit of gray in what constitutes a pre-trial diversion and what can be a gift," she said. "We just thought that could be better defined."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled in December that Britton's program didn't operate within the law.

Buckingham doesn't know when her bill will be taking up by the senate committee for a vote.

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