Monday, May 27, 2013
Texas Legislature kills bill that would allow city officials to tap cellphones freely
AUSTIN The bill Grits put the most effort into killing this session was S.B. 188 by Huffman (and its companion, H.B. 530 by Fletcher) expanding authority of local PDs in big cities to engage in wiretapping. It was a bad bill, but no one opposed it in the Senate. And Grits probably wouldn't have stuck my nose into the fray if it weren't for the untoward behavior of one of the bill's most prominent backers.
The two main proponents of the wiretap expansion bill -- Det. Jimmy Taylor from the Houston PD and Frederick Frazier from the Dallas Police Association -- were also the individuals most prominently opposing H.B. 1608 by Hughes requiring warrants to obtain cell-phone location data. Det. Frazier had been particularly hostile and abusive toward Rep. Hughes' poor, unsuspecting staffer assigned to the bill, who'd never before been on the business end of such vitriolic police tirades. ("Welcome to my world," I told her.) One day I came into the office and she was on the phone with Frazier holding the receiver a foot away from her ear with an aggrieved look on her face as he screamed into the line. I could hear him halfway across the room.
Grits is not a fan of such bullying behavior, particularly when it's aimed at a well-intentioned twenty something staffer from my hometown who's working her butt off! So in retaliation, I authored an op ed against his wiretap expansion bill in the Houston Chronicle and shared it with the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee staff, submitted written testimony against the bill at the public hearing on the House side, and visited with committee members' offices behind the scenes to scuttle Frazier's pet legislation. To be fair, members of that committee weren't hard to convince and perhaps the bill would have perished anyway, but there was no other public opposition. By the time I made the rounds after the hearing I could count at least six (out of nine) votes against it. Despite a 30-1 vote in the Senate (and btw, kudos to Craig Estes for opposing it), the bill never made it out of committee on the House side.
My purpose was not just to kill a bad bill, which is always a plus, but also to send a message to Mr. Frazier and his ilk: Next time be more polite, pick on somebody your own size, and if you decide to launch an all-out war against reform bills you dislike, keep in mind that strategy may come back to bite you on your own legislation. It did on S.B. 188.
Pegasus News Content partner - Grits For Breakfast