April 24, 2007
Farrar on HB13

The following is a press release from Rep. Jessica Farrar (my State Rep) regarding the Homeland Security bill HB13:

On Thursday, April 19, the House Committee on State Affairs voted to send HB 13 by Chairman Swinford (R-Dumas) to the House floor for a vote. Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) voted against the bill and officially stated that she has serious concerns regarding the bill. While she agrees in principal with what the bill aims to do, she does not feel the current language in HB 13 truly works to protect Texas from crime along the border and throughout the state.

Chief among Rep. Farrar's concerns is that HB 13 creates a State Office of Homeland Security that is placed under the Office of the Governor. "This means that the State Office of Homeland Security is neither a law enforcement agency, nor is it overseen by a law enforcement agency. It is overseen by a political office despite the fact that HB 13 tasks the State Office of Homeland Security with activities that have traditionally been developed, administered, and executed by law enforcement agencies," she stated.

One of the most pressing aspects of this overall concern for Rep. Farrar involves the Texas Data Exchange (TDEx). While HB 13 places TDEx under the Texas Rangers, the Governor's Office of Emergency Management is charged with project management of TDEx. "This means that the Governor's State Office of Homeland Security continues to have access to and control over the administration of TDEx," she said. In addition, Rep. Farrar noted that the Texas Rangers are already charged with investigating capitol murder, helping local law enforcement, investigating official wrongdoing, and overseeing the current Texas Youth Commission investigation with the 112 officers they currently have, and this is where their focus should remain.

Since the Texas Rangers have no experience in administering, developing, or implementing any kind of database, she believes adding this to their list of things to do puts an unfair burden on them. "We have to ask if this is this in the best interest of both TDEx and the Texas Rangers, and I believe the answer is no. The Criminal Law Enforcement Division of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) is charged with maintaining and administering DPS databases. Therefore, TDEx would most naturally be accommodated there, " said Rep. Farrar.

Language in HB 13 requires that local and state law enforcement officers enforce the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act even though Chairman Swinford has repeatedly stated that he did not intend this legislation to force local and state law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws. The language on immigration laws in HB 13 contradicts his statements and supposed intent.

Along with the concern regarding the enforcement of federal immigration law, Rep. Farrar points out that the bill creates a Border Security Council that is charged with deciding how to disburse funds for border security activities. It consists of the director of the State Office of Homeland Security, the public safety director of DPS, and the executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, which means that the director of the State Office of Homeland Security and the executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition could easily outvote the public safety director of DPS despite the fact that DPS is the state law enforcement arm of the council. In addition, the Border Security Council is charged with implementing performance measures and auditing the programs administered by the State Office of Homeland Security.

The result is that the Governor's State Office of Homeland Security, which is the entity that administers the border security programs, and the border sheriffs, which are the entities that receive and use the funds for border security programs, decide where the money goes as well as what are and are not adequate results. In other words, says Rep. Farrar, "the same entities receiving the funds for border security are responsible for monitoring and auditing themselves. This is an obvious conflict of interest, and it does not compensate for the fact that a political office will have control over where the money goes and how it is used. I know of no other state-funded agency or body that does not have a second or third party checking in to make sure they are operating appropriately."

Rep. Farrar has repeatedly voiced her concerns regarding the border security programs that the Governor's Office of Homeland Security has already been in charge of. She has called into question their methods of measuring the success of their own operations. "I have seen the reports they use, and they leave a great deal to be desired. No one has been able to fully explain to me how they calculate their statistics, and other law enforcement officials have shared with me that they also question the validity of their so-called success rates. That makes me worry that we are spending a great deal of money on programs that are not going to have a significant and sustained effect on border crime" she said.

Along with the creation of the Border Security Council, HB 13 focuses solely on providing assistance to border sheriffs. "Municipal police forces have been virtually shut out of the programs that so far have been administered by the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, even though they are charged with the protection of the majority of residents on the Texas border. Municipal police chiefs have voiced their concern to me that they are not included in either the decision-making process involved with these programs in HB 13, nor have they been included in the border security projects that have so far been executed," stated Rep. Farrar.

She also noted that crimes related to drugs and human trafficking are not limited to the border area. Major metropolitan Texas areas as well as other towns and cities feel they also need funds and support from the state to target the crime their communities are seeing. Current language in HB 13 would give authority to the State Office of Homeland Security, with the advice of the Border Security Council, to decide how to disperse funds for Homeland Security throughout the state as well as how to measure the success of these programs. This is also a concern since there is the possibility the main focus of these programs will also remain with the border sheriffs and not be disbursed according to need throughout the state. "We need to ensure that funding is made available to all law enforcement throughout the state if we really want to have a significant impact on crime," stated Rep. Farrar.

More on the problems of HB13 here, and of course at Grits for Breakfast. The Observer blog has a related point.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 24, 2007 to That's our Lege