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TipSheet: Travis County, 3.12.19

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. To help our readers stay informed, each week we offer a selection of interesting items from the voting session agenda. The entire agenda can be found on the Travis County website.

6. Receive update on designating a local behavioral health authority in Travis County. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: The public comment period to provide input on a dedicated LBHA closed March 5. Nearly all of the comments received were in favor of an LBHA, but many noted reservations about Integral Care, the most likely organization to take on the challenge. The most common objections to Integral Care were limited success in appropriately addressing substance abuse and mental health as well as accusations of being financially non-transparent. There was no clear consensus among critics, however, regarding which alternative entity should become the designated LBHA. A handful of responses suggested that an LBHA was not the appropriate model to address the community’s health issues and that substance abuse in particular could be more effectively dealt with by the criminal justice system or other entity. A smaller number of individuals argued that substance abuse and mental health are entirely different issues and that conflating them under one entity is counterproductive.

7. Consider and take appropriate action on legislative matters, including: a. Update on legislative activities b. Senate Bill 669 and House Bill 2201, relating to the date for the confirmation election for the Southwestern Travis County Groundwater Conservation District c. Modifications to the Priorities, Policy Positions, and Positions on Other Proposals sections of the Travis County Legislative Agenda (Commissioners Shea and Daugherty)

Monitor’s Take: As of March 8, the 60th day of the legislative session has passed and Intergovernmental Relations staff says things are moving more quickly and more bills have been filed than usual. The court did not get to hear from IGR last week because Officer Deece Eckstein was busy at the Capitol. This week the court will get an update on the previous two weeks and discuss a new pair of bills that would allow Travis County residents to officially vote on the creation of the SWTCGCD in November of this year.

9. Receive update from county staff regarding requirement(s) for an Intent to Submit Application (ISA) Letter to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for the creation of a public defender office in Travis County. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Prior to the TIDC board meeting on Thursday, March 7, members of the Travis County judiciary sent a letter to the TIDC stating full support for “some form of a public defender system” and an intention to remain involved in that effort. Now, thanks to TIDC Executive Director Geoff Burkhart’s recommendation, the county will have roughly two months to decide what that system would be and how it could be adequately funded. As Burkhart suggested may be possible, the TIDC board waived the intent-to-submit-application requirement at its Thursday morning meeting in order to give the county some time to formulate a plan. Failing that waiver, the county would have lost its chance at applying for the TIDC grant this year and could have also lost a chunk of the total available TIDC funds. What happens over the next two months is likely to shape the future of indigent defense in the county for years to come.

32. Receive legal briefing in Amy Smith, et al v. City of Austin, et. al., Case No. 1:18-CV-5051, and other claims and actions that relate to this litigation.1 (Judge Eckhardt).

Monitor’s Take: U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has yet to rule on the case involving eight sexual assault survivors claiming that the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and city of Austin law enforcement failed to properly address and seek justice for their cases on the basis of sex. In a further development, on Monday, March 4, a new petition was filed against Mindy Montford of the county D.A.’s Office accusing her of divulging private and false information about Emily Borchardt’s case to one of Borchardt’s friends over the phone. This item will be discussed in executive session.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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