FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 04/28/2009
Rep. Rafael AnchiaTIM COLE ACT PASSES TEXAS HOUSE, SIMILAR BILL AWAITS SENATE VOTE
House Bill 1736 Increases Compensation, Other Benefits for Wrongly Imprisoned Texans
(Austin)-- On a 136-1 vote, Representative Rafael Anchia's HB 1736, otherwise known as "The Tim Cole Act," passed in the Texas House of Representatives. Now the bill's Senate companion, SB 2014 (Duncan, Ellis) is on the Senate intent calendar, awaiting scheduling for a vote.
The bill greatly increases the compensation the State of Texas pays to the dozens of individuals who have been found to have been wrongly imprisoned. So far, 39 Texas prisoners have been cleared based on DNA evidence. Those 39 individuals spent a total of over 500 years in Texas prisons and county jails. Dozens of others have been exonerated based on non-DNA evidence.
The bill is named for Timothy Cole, who died in prison in 1999. Cole was serving a 25 year sentence after being wrongfully convicted for the rape of a Texas Tech student in 1985. The guilty man, convict Jerry Wayne Johnson, had tried to confess to the crime as early as 1995, but under state law he could no longer be charged with the crime. Subsequently, DNA testing ordered by the Lubbock County District Attorney's office proved that Tim Cole could not have been the perpetrator. But Tim Cole died in prison before the system could free him.
"The state has taken away precious years of these innocent people's lives--how do you put a number on that?" Anchia asked, adding, "The Tim Cole Act is simply a recognition that what the state is currently providing them is not enough--we clearly need to do more."
HB 1736 increases the lump sum compensation paid to victims of wrongful imprisonment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment. In addition to the lump sum payment, the bill also requires the State of Texas to make monthly payments to the exonerated individual for life. Further provisions of the bill are health insurance for exonerees under the state Group Benefits Plan and up to 120 hours of free tuition at a career center, community college or state university.
The Tim Cole Act also allows for the granting of a posthumous pardon and expunction of records for an exonerated person who has deceased.
Referring to the Tim Cole Act, Edwin Cole of The Justice Project said, "It is high time Texas responds to the many wrongful convictions that have done so much damage to the lives of innocent people. As we work to prevent future mistakes, we must also step up to our obligations to help the wrongfully convicted piece their lives back together and give them the tools and resources they need to repair the damage and move forward.”
Representative Rafael Anchia is a former DISD school board trustee serving his third term in the Texas House and represents District 103 of northwest Dallas County.