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2013-05-16

Bandera step closer to 198th District

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A bill introduced into the 83rd Texas Legislature affecting Bandera County's judicial district alignment has been included as part of an Omnibus Bill - taking it a step closer to approval.

CSHB 3153 had its second read on May 7. Www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary defines an Omnibus Bill as a "draft law before a legislature which contains more than one substantive matter, or several minor matters which have been combined into one bill, ostensibly for the sake of convenience." Previously, the transfer of Bandera County from one judicial district to another had been introduced by companion legislation in both the Texas House and Senate.

On Tuesday, March 5, State Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock sponsored SB 1111. Duncan represents rural counties also involved in the realignment. Three days later, District 53 State Representative Harvey Hilderbran filed HB 3381.

According to Bandera County Judge Richard Evans, because CSHB 3153 includes other judicial changes, such as the creation of county courts at law and matters relating to Travis and other urban counties, he felt the Omnibus Bill stands a better change of being enacted into law.

If approved, CSHB 3153 would transfer Bandera County out of the 216th Judicial District and into the 198th Judicial District - along with pending civil and criminal cases.

Additionally, counties previously included in the 198th District - Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard - would make up a new 452nd Judicial District. Other new judicial districts created by CSHB 3153 include 442nd, comprised of Denton County; and 450th, a new preferential criminal court in Travis County.

During a meeting on Feb. 28, Bandera County Commissioners unanimously supported the creation of a new judicial district and the realignment of Bandera County to the 198th Judicial District.

As Bandera County Judge Richard Evans explained, "Judge (Keith) Williams (of the 216th District) carries the highest case load of any district in Texas. Currently, court is only held (in Bandera County) once a month. If we become a part of the 198th, we'll get twice as much attention from the DA and judge." District court would convene twice a month.

Earlier, Kerr County Commissioners, led by Judge Pat Tinley, had approved a similar resolution, which would allow them to "achieve more timely and effective disposition of cases in Kerr County." Commissioners in Gillespie County also supported the resolution.

If signed into law, the combined bills would leave just Bandera County and a portion of Kerr County in the 198th Judicial District, and Gillespie and Kendall counties and a portion of Kerr County in the 216th Judicial District. If approved, all changes will go into effect Sept. 1.

District Attorney for the 198th Judicial District is Scott Monroe of Kerrville with Melvin "Rex" Emerson serving as district judge.

"There will be some additional costs," Evans said in an earlier interview, adding that although no finite numbers had been calculated. However, he anticipated the costs to be "minimal and affordable" when compared to the benefits.

Always circumspect when it comes to decisions in Austin, as late as Monday, May 13, Evans was unwilling to speculate whether the Omnibus Bill would be signed into law, saying, "It's not over until it's over."