In a significant shift in lobbying clout, Texas' most powerful business group is making criminal-justice reforms a key focus of its priorities for legislative action, seeking ways to spend taxpayer money more efficiently and to improve the state's economic future, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), said the group plans to push for more rehabilitation and community-based corrections programs; to change Texas' drug-sentencing laws to put more low-level offenders in local treatment and reduce penalties for small amounts of drugs; and to modify state licensing laws that keep some ex-convicts from ever becoming certified for various trades.
“We're sending too many people to the slammer,” Hammond said. “The taxpayers and the business community are both being harmed.” The entry of an influential lobby group such as TAB — which represents many of the state's largest employers — promises to change the likelihood that significant reforms could pass into law. It could also portend a showdown with some victims' rights groups who lobbied for passage of many of the tough-on-criminals measures of the past 20 years. Business leaders from Florida to Kentucky to Oregon have endorsed corrections reforms on limited issues within the past year. TAB's new role could be the biggest entry by a business group into systemic justice reform.