New state bills proposed to disallow arrests for offenses punishable by fine

HOUSTON – If you're caught speeding, chances are you're issued a ticket and from there you're free to go.

But in Texas, an officer can arrest you.

That's on a case-by-case basis -- and in Houston -- the Houston Police Department requires an officer to get approval from a supervisor first.

That could change under two bills working through the state Capitol in Austin.

House Bills 567 and 574 aim to eliminate an officer's authority to arrest people on offenses punishable by fines.

In the books they're called Class C Misdemeanors.

"Could be anything from a speeding ticket to insurance, to no drivers license to failing to signal a lane change," Ray Hunt said.

Hunt is president of the Houston Police Officers Union.

The union opposes both bills.

"For you to say a police officer can't make an arrest on a Class C, what do you do if the person says I'm not going to court on this. I'm not going to court," Hunt said.

Supporters say the bills are necessary.

For one thing, they point to the July 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland in Hempstead as an example.

State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for failure to signal a lane change, though that escalated.

Bland was arrested for resisting arrest that arrest stemming from failure to use a turn signal.

Bland died days later while in custody at the Waller County Jail.

Bland aside -- supporters say many others are simply arrested for no reason.

In a statement to KPRC, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (which supports the bills) said, in part:

"This proposal will reduce tension between officers and citizens by making it clear that drivers guilty only of driving infractions will not be carted off to jail."