AUSTIN, Texas -- It's the toughest punishment in Texas' criminal justice system: the death penalty.
But sentencing can become murky when the defendant is suspected to have an intellectual disability or mental health issue.
"We couldn't be taking on a more serious topic than the death penalty," said Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso).
Monday, Texas lawmakers met to discuss how defendants with suspected intellectual disabilities are being diagnosed in the most serious criminal cases.
"Our courts have repeatedly asked the legislature to step up on this topic, and I intend to start doing that today," Moody said.
Defendants with an intellectual disability aren't eligible for the death penalty, but Texas lawmakers left it up to the courts to develop a standard for diagnosing those disabilities.
"We're not really in the law writing business, we weren't elected to do that," said Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala.
Judge Alcala said the rule-making didn't sit well with her, and that inconsistencies arose between Texas courts. Then, in 2017, the Supreme Court struck down Texas' technique of diagnosing intellectual disabilities, renewing calls on Texas lawmakers.
"Unless they act and pass legislation to define intellectual disability, then courts will once again have to come up with their own judicially-created definition," Alcala said.
But lawmakers' hesitancy to set guidelines may stem from a significant reason:
"Intellectual disability is very complex and very unique to the individual," said Arc of Texas Public Policy Director Kyle Piccola.
However, a solution may be hiding in plain sight.
"The state of Texas already has standards in place to gauge eligibility for, for example, health and human services, and so we would support mirroring that," Piccola said.
It is a potential place to start, as lawmakers get down to the serious business of ensuring people with intellectual disabilities aren't put to death.
According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, two people have already been removed from death row after last year's Supreme Court decision.
Executions have been on the decline in Texas since the year 2000. That year there were 40, compared to just seven last year. in Texas since the year 2000.