HB13, the homeland security bill that Governor Perry really really wants, has passed out of committee, and while it has addressed one concern of its detractors, it still sounds highly problematic to me.
House State Affairs Committee Chairman David Swinford, R-Dumas, said his homeland security bill, approved by the panel Thursday, should allay concerns surrounding who runs the far-reaching intelligence tool called Texas Data Exchange.
"There's been a lot of scuttlebutt about the database, TDEx," he said earlier in the day. "Well, there's two people I trust, God and the Texas Rangers. And, God was busy. So the Texas Rangers are now getting that control of security of the data system."
The bill states that the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, would assume "command and control" over TDEx, a system intended to beef up the state's homeland security efforts and centralize information for police agencies.
Yet it also states that the Governor's Division of Emergency Management would provide to the Texas Rangers "necessary project management resources, including operational support and personnel" for TDEx.
The bill cries for an actual debate by lawmakers -- and the public -- about what role the governor's office should play in beefing up homeland security in Texas. Should the state's top elected official just coordinate the process, and devise a grand vision for it? Or, as Perry wants, should the governor have direct authority over law enforcement, intelligence gathering and budget decisions to support those activities? Putting that kind of power into the governor's office seems to contradict more than a century of Texas tradition, dating back to the constitution of 1876.
The bill also puts TDEx under the Texas Rangers, which, while an improvement over having it directly in the governor's office, is kind of odd since the folks who know about running databases at DPS are in the Criminal Law Enforcement Division.
Finally, the bill creates another layer of bureaucracy, a Border Security Council to oversee this disaster in the making and disperse homeland security funds. The council will be composed of the governor's director of homeland security, the director of DPS, and the executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition. There is no representation from the police departments of the border cities, where most of the crime and drug activities on the border take place. Most of the money is destined for the border sheriffs who will then presumably audit themselves. Since these folks are elected and the inclusion of the governor's office adds another political element, the only actual law enforcement agency on the council somewhat insulated from politics will be DPS. Any guesses on what the normal 2 to 1 vote on the council will be?
Names of more than 1 million Texans are housed in the database, drawn from records of state, local and, soon, federal law enforcement agencies.
According to Texas Homeland Security's "TDEx Fielding Objective", by Nov. 2007, 72 percent of the Texas population will be in the database. And by Nov. 2008, it will be 96 percent.
One more thing, concerning that new bureaucracy of a three-member Border Security Council:
[S]ome of its directives for providing better border control and safety raised concerns for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Specifically, it says local governments will lose homeland security funds if they pass ordinances stating they won't enforce federal immigration law.
"It's putting cities in the position of either violating federal law or losing their homeland security funding," said Luis Figuero, a MALDEF attorney.
UPDATE: In related news, two bills that would greatly expand the scope of wiretapping in Texas have advanced in the Senate. The latter would allow big city police departments, including HPD, to operate their own pen register devices, which "capture real time outgoing telephone numbers dialed from a target telephone", something that only DPS can do now. Are we feeling more secure yet? Grits has the gory details.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 20, 2007 to That's our Lege