The following is another press release from Rep. Jessica Farrar (my State Rep) regarding the Homeland Security bill HB13:
On Friday, April 27, HB 13 by Chairman Swinford (R-Dumas) was recommitted to the House Committee on State Affairs. On Monday, April 30, the newly amended version of HB 13 was voted out of the committee and sent to the House floor for a vote. It is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Thursday, May 3. Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) has repeatedly voiced her concerns regarding HB 13, stating that while she agrees with what the bill aims to accomplish she feels the language in the bill does not provide what the Texas law enforcement community needs to combat the crime we currently face on the border and throughout the state.
The newest version of HB 13 fails to address Rep. Farrar's primary concern that duties that belong with a law enforcement agency are placed with a political office. That political office is run by a civilian that is appointed by the Governor. "The State Office of Homeland Security is placed in the Office of the Governor, and it is not overseen by any law enforcement agency or personnel. Yet we, as a legislature, are expected to give this office $100 million plus the authority to develop, administer, and execute activities that should be placed under a law enforcement agency such as the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). That does not make sense to me," stated Rep. Farrar.
Another major concern is that while the newest version of HB 13 moves the Texas Data Exchange (TDEx) to DPS, it continues to give program management of this criminal database to the Governor's Division of Emergency Management, which is a part of the State Office of Homeland Security. The Criminal Law Enforcement Division of DPS is currently staffed with crime analysts, data analysts, and other personnel that develop, maintain, and administer other DPS databases. "DPS does not need the Governor's Division of Emergency Management to provide any program management or support for TDEx. This is simply to guarantee that the Governor's Office continues to have access to and command of the highly sensitive criminal and personal information in TDEx, and that is unacceptable," said Rep. Farrar.
Yet another concern related to intelligence is the creation of the Texas Fusion Center, which is placed in the State Office of Homeland Security. The Texas Fusion Center will merge data from law enforcement and the private sector. It is meant to facilitate the sharing of crime and homeland security related information and intelligence at all levels of law enforcement. This is a problem because highly sensitive criminal and personal data will be controlled by a political office. There is also a possibility that the Texas Fusion Center will not be allowed to participate in the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, a nationwide communications capability endorsed by the US Department of Justice that will link together all levels of law enforcement, as it is meant specifically for law enforcement agencies.
Along those same lines, the ability of both TDEx and the Texas Fusion Center to work cooperatively with other law enforcement agencies that run criminal databases is compromised because the State Office of Homeland Security is not a law enforcement agency. "Other national and international law enforcement agencies are hesitant to share highly sensitive criminal information and intelligence with a political and non-law enforcement agency. I fear we are risking the level of assistance and cooperation we will get from other law enforcement entities if we do not place both TDEx and the Texas Fusion Center completely under DPS and remove the access and control HB 13 currently gives to the Governor's Office," said Rep. Farrar.
While revisions to the language in HB 13 pertaining to the Border Security Council were made, the end result has not been a change for the better. Members of the Border Security Council are now appointed by the Governor, including the chair of the council. "The duties currently assigned to the Border Security Council should be carried out by law enforcement professionals, not political appointees," said Rep. Farrar.
The Border Security Council now has a strictly advisory role, as the State Office of Homeland Security decides how to allocate all border and homeland security funding. "The end result is that we still have the Governor's office deciding who gets money and support. There is no protocol to ensure that the funds for both border and homeland security programs around the state are distributed based on need," said Rep. Farrar.
In addition, the State Office of Homeland Security will be the entity that sets performance standards, reporting requirements, and audit methods for all border and homeland security funding and programs. "This is still a case of self-policing. No one else getting state funding is allowed this privilege," said Rep. Farrar.
HB 13 also requires local and state law enforcement officers to have to report certain crimes to the State Office of Homeland Security. "While this creates a massive new and unnecessary reporting requirement on our officers, it also puts the State Office of Homeland Security into the role of monitoring local law enforcement on a state-wide level. There is no need for this, and it gives even more control of law enforcement matters to a political office," stated Rep. Farrar.
"This bill should be about empowering our law enforcement community throughout Texas so that it is able to get the job done. Unfortunately, HB 13 fails to do this. I believe both our border and homeland security will suffer as a result of this, and I ask my colleagues to seriously consider the consequences of the current language in this bill as it comes to the House floor on Thursday. The citizens of Texas are asking for results, and this legislation will not give them that," said Rep. Farrar.
UPDATE: More from Grits.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 03, 2007 to That's our Lege