The first amendment by Riddle allowed the Harris County Sheriff to operate wiretaps in addition to the six largest PDs. Oh oh, I thought, this isn't starting out well. The second floor amendment adjusted other language in the bill to account for changes in the first one.
An amendment by Dutton was more promising. Agencies that want to engage in wiretapping must register who will operate them with the Department of Public Safety and create a written policy governing wiretapping that must be approved by DPS. Officers involved in wiretapping must receive additional training under the amendment. It allows DPS to conduct audits at participating agencies for compliance and to restrict agencies use of wiretap equipment if they aren't in compliance with this section.
Burt Solomons tacked on a final amendment that requires agencies to report to DPS how much they spend on wiretapping and for DPS to post it on its website. (That's a good amendment, but I'd sure like to have seen more reporting requirements added than just expenditures - federal reporting already requires more than that, like how many wiretaps are done, on what types of cases, etc.)
On to third reading on Monday, I suppose, if they're not going to meet over the weekend, then back to the Senate for either concurrence or to head to a conference committee. I'm not a fan of the bill, but congrats to Rep. Riddle, I suppose, for her use of the art of compromise to get SB 823 past a contentious House. (I still wish they'd just killed the bill, but for some odd reason I don't get a vote!)
BREAKING NEWS! Rep. Senfronia Thompson called a point of order on HB 357. The point of order was "temporarily withdrawn" and the bill was rescheduled for 1:15. Rep. Thompson represents Houston, the largest of the six cities that would be empowered to perform wiretapping under the bill and the only one that's really been lobbying for it. Here's hoping she succeeds in killing this unnecessary legislation.
After a healthy debate in the Texas House last night over limiting the governor's police powers in the name of homeland security, I should mention that on this morning's calendar is HB 357, which would de-regulate wiretapping authority in Texas, letting the six largest cities run their own shops instead of relying on DPS, even though most agencies seldom need it.
The bill came up twice yesterday and was postponed both times by its sponsor, Debbie Riddle, perhaps to negotiate with critics of the legislation. It's scheduled again for a vote at a 10 a.m. "time certain" this morning, but that's after two delays already that had nothing to do with the House's meltdown last night over border security and Indian gaming (the last bill of the night that died on a tie vote). Anyway, wiretapping is up again, or it might be - see prior, related Grits posts:
- Texas should keep wiretap authority at DPS
- Wiretapping deregulation a big waste: Texas judges approve few warrants for phone surveillance.
- Wiretapping expansion a sleeper issue this session