Texas Senate moves to open process to remove prosecutors who won’t pursue abortion, election cases

The Texas Senate on Friday passed a bill that would allow “rogue” prosecutors to be removed from office if they choose not to enforce certain laws.

The move is part of a broader effort to crack down on District Attorneys in liberal areas of the conservative state who have publicly said they won’t prosecute abortion offenses or, in some cases, nonviolent, low-level drug or theft cases. 

The Senate, in its vote, removed versions of the proposed law included in the House version (HB 17) that carved out exceptions to removal for things like diversion programs, which allow offenders to avoid jail in certain circumstances for certain low-level offenses. Its version passed 20-11, paving the way for a reconciliation process between the two chambers on a final product. 

Both versions of the bill would classify refusal to prosecute crimes as “official misconduct,” though the two bills also differ on how the removal process would work.

Currently, the Legislature cannot impeach locally elected prosecutors, nor can those attorneys face recall elections, according to News From The States. Instead, they can be removed only by a petition accusing them of “incompetency, official misconduct or intoxication” and only after a jury finds them guilty and a judge orders them removed from office. 

The House version of the removal legislation would require a petition from anyone who has resided in the county where the prosecutor handles cases for at least six months, with a judge from a nearby county handling the case. The Senate version doesn’t contain that caveat. 

The issue has become a common problem for Republicans frustrated with liberal prosecutors wary of enforcing laws like criminalized abortion and for liberal prosecutors now facing potential removal for employing prosecutorial discretion.

In Florida, a State Attorney from Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren, was removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis via executive order after he signed pledges not to pursue abortion cases and not to prosecute certain nonviolent drug offenses. Orlando State Attorney Monique Worrell claims DeSantis is engaged in a “witch hunt” to remove her from office for similar prosecutorial discretion. 

“There must be a mechanism in place in Texas to remove prosecutors who simply refuse to enforce Texas laws which have been made by this Legislature or any Legislature,” bill sponsor state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, said on the floor Friday, according to News From The States.

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