AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill that would eliminate a disputed loophole police use to block the release of records in cases where a suspect is killed made it another step closer to becoming law Monday when the Senate passed an amended version in a third and final reading.
House Bill 30, by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would end Texas’ so-called “dead suspect loophole,” which law enforcement departments can use to block records from being released to the public in cases that haven’t gone through the court process, such as when a suspect is killed during an arrest. The exemption rose to prominence – again – last year when Uvalde officials used it to block the release of records and video that would have shed light on law enforcement’s response to the mass murder at Robb Elementary School.
Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, sponsored the bill in the senate and carried the committee substitute.
“Part of the reason we are doing this is for transparency, for one, for the familes’ sake,” King said in remarks to the Senate during the bill’s passage Monday.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said she wants to ensure toxicology reports – which are typically part of an autopsy and show whether a person had certain drugs or alcohol in their system – would be included in the records targeted by the bill. Kolkhorst said toxicology would help illuminate the cause of a suspect’s actions.
“I look forward to working with you and other members to make toxicology tests mandatory and that, then again, it is released to the public, so that we can begin to see if there is a pattern,” Kolkhorst told King.
On Friday, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee approved Moody’s bill with an amendment to stop the public release of law enforcement personnel files and misconduct information in personnel files.
The amended version of the bill will need to go back to the House or a conference committee for approval.
KXAN has followed the dead-suspect loophole for years, including a major investigation that revealed its use to block records of deaths in custody in Austin.
KXAN investigated the case of Graham Dyer, an 18-year-old who died in police custody in 2013. In their search for answers, Graham Dyer’s parent’s struggled to obtain video of the incident because of the record loophole. His mother, Kathy, has advocated for changing the loophole for years.
“We are surprised, very pleased, and extremely grateful to Representative Moody, Speaker Phelan, Senator King and all of the legislators who supported the bill – and hopeful that Governor Abbott will sign it into law,” Kathy Dyer told KXAN on Monday.
Moody has brought the dead suspect loophole bill in multiple previous sessions, but it has never progressed this far. KXAN will continue to monitor the bill’s progress in the coming days as the regular session comes to a close.