Greetings from El Paso! This has been a very busy time for me and it stands to get a whole lot busier! In January of this year the Speaker of the House issued his “Interim Charges” for all House Committees.
The Committee for Homeland Security and Public Safety, which I chair, was charged with:
1. Assess the level of preparedness among critical infrastructure entities, state and local emergency planning organizations, first response efforts, and overall coordination of jurisdictions across the state, Including a review of the state’s role in preparing, resourcing, and coordinating with local emergency response, specifically in rural areas or areas that depend largely on volunteer response efforts.
2. Investigate the fatal explosion in West, Texas, in April 2013, for deficiencies in safety, risk management, and disaster planning by chemical facilities and state entities. Determine if any changes should be made to existing laws and rules relating to inspection, investigation, and enforcement, and make specific recommendations on how to reduce the likelihood for damage, injury, or death.
3. Evaluate state and local entities’ effectiveness in meeting the state’s border and homeland security program goals and objectives.
4. Review the Driver Responsibility Program and consider methods for overall improvement of the program.
5. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should: a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens; b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate; c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.
One issue that I think readers may find interesting is that of the recent Attorney General’s opinion, (GA-1051), in relation to: “Whether a school district may authorize an employee or trustee to carry a concealed handgun at any meeting of a government entity or on the premises of school property where a sporting event or interscholastic event is taking place.” I know that many security specialists work with governmental entities and may be exposed to this issue. The short story is that the opinion states that Penal Code section 46.035, (b) & (c) are not violated by a person who is lawfully carrying a handgun pursuant to a school board of trustees’ written regulations and authorization under subsection 46.03 (a)(1).
Of course, this is just that, an opinion. Obviously an opinion that carries “weight” but neverthe- less an opinion. I would recommend that your staff be familiar with these laws passed last session if your operations and mission exposes your staff to this type of situation. On April 17, 2013, the terrible explosion at West, Texas occurred. I called for a meeting of the Homeland & Public Safety Committee a few days later to begin the process of understanding what went wrong and to find out what could be done, if anything, to prevent another similar disaster. Since then I have conducted several committee meetings, meetings with experts and Texas Agencies, to find the answers. As you see, Interim Charge #2 reflects the same.
The committee continues to work hard to find the answers. Follow-up on related hearings were being held in May, June and August 2013 and our last meeting was April 14 with testimony from experts and Texas agencies. I can assure you that everyone from the committee, to the government sector to the private sector is working hard to find the right fixes. Another issue that we have begun to look at includes the driver’s responsibility act and surcharges that are assigned to those individuals who have been adjudicated.These fines fund trauma care in Texas at a tune of $170 million a year but opponents advise it is not effective and is unfair, as it has been pointed out that many of the drivers fined under this program never pay up, owing the state millions.
There has been a lot of media on this issue and there have been many complaints about the current charges, how they are applied and the fact that some citizens are not aware that it is not just a one-time fee. The fact remains that there are many issues and details about this program that the committee is looking at, and, also reflects that the people of Texas, take keeping our roads and highways safe seriously. We will keep working through this and try to find better working solutions. Along with those responsibilities and the work that comes with that, I am constantly being updated by different state agencies on matters of security for the state as well as other topics that will go unmentioned since the focus of your organization is industrial security.
I know the readers can appreciate the depth that security reaches and the 24/7 attention and commitment that is needed to perform the task. As you can see by all the interim charges the committee and myself are focused and committed. I expect to enter into the 84th Legislative with well thought out legislation on these and many other issues. In closing, I would like to thank the ASSIST organization, their staff and members, for all they you do to keep our communities safe!