Austin TX - (AP) Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson, chief judge of the state's high court, is calling on the Texas Legislature to provide more funding for poor defendants who can't afford to hire a lawyer.
Jefferson, addressing the Legislature Wednesday, said proposed cuts to the Fair Defense Account — made as part of sweeping reductions under discussion by Texas lawmakers — would "drain the system of resources" needed to ensure indigent people get adequate representation in criminal matters. Jefferson said Texas already ranks near the bottom among the 50 states in terms of how much financial assistance it provides for indigent defense.
He said funds are needed to ensure more accurate and fair trials and to make DNA evidence more widely available.
"In the last 10 years, more than 40 Texas prisoners have been exonerated based on DNA evidence," Jefferson said. "This is not just a Texas problem, but no other state has found an equal number of wrongfully convicted prisoners."
In civil matters, Jefferson urged lawmakers, even as they face severe budget woes, to provide $20 million in general revenue for basic civil legal services.
"Today, the courthouse door is closed to many who have lost their jobs, to military veterans who are on the streets, to women who suffer physical abuse form cowards," Jefferson said.
State lawmakers have filed legislation that would require sex education classes in Texas to include information about contraceptives that can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
The legislation filed Wednesday would also require schools to emphasize the importance of abstinence as the only foolproof way to avoid disease and pregnancy.
Currently, the state doesn't require public schools to teach sex education. Schools that do must emphasize abstinence and the failure rate of contraceptives.
The legislation was filed by three Democrats: Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.
Van de Putte says focusing on the abstinence-until-marriage approach is "folly."
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