Interest groups are pressuring Texas lawmakers to authorize the use of roadblocks ahead of their return for the 2009 legislative session. The practice of setting up barricades on roads to stop and interrogate motorists suspected of no wrongdoing has been unlawful since a 1994 state appeals court decision ruled that a "politically accountable governing body at the state level" must first approve their use. Now Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has scheduled an October 23 deadline for briefs to decide the Texas Public Safety Commission's request to bypass this requirement and approve roadblocks on its own authority.Here's the letter from Public Safety Commission Chairman Allan Polunsky (pdf) seeking authority to set up roadblocks to check driver's license and insurance information. DPS wants to know not only whether they can authorize a "driver license checkpoint program" but also whether they can "authorize other state and local law enforcement agencies" to do roadblocks!
Their claim to this new-found authority, DPS attorneys believe, hinges on whether the Public Safety Commission is considered a "politically accountable governing body at the state level." If that's the standard, this should be a no-brainer and barring some agenda-driven, activist reading, the AG should reject DPS' interpretation.
By "politically accountable," the courts clearly meant accountable to the people through democratic elections. Essentially Polunsky wants to claim for DPS authority that rightfully belongs to the Legislature, specifically so he can override their longstanding rejection of a controversial tactic. That takes a lot of chutzpah - it's the kind of thing Polunsky may pay for later behind the scenes next year in the budget process or elsewhere. Legislators don't generally like bureaucrats making a power grab for their turf.
A reader who alerted me to this outrage also forwarded a letter to AG Greg Abbott from Sputnik, the legendary chair of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association:
Honorable Greg AbbottThe deadline for submitting comments about Polunsky's proposal is this Thursday, Oct. 23 (see the AG's Opinions page for more details) and I'd encourage all Grits readers interested in this topic to submit a brief or just tell Abbott your opinion.
Texas Attorney General
It has been brought to my attention that you have set Oct. 23rd as the Deadline to hear remarks about allowing the Department of Public Safety to bypass the legislature and establish a road block rule in Texas.
As you are aware this Bill has been introduced in the Texas Legislature As a deterrent for the DWI problem during three separate sessions and has not garnered sufficient support to be passed into law.
Simply changing the title to a Drivers License and Insurance check does not override the legislative intent that roadblocks should not be allowed in Texas.The Bill will be introduced again in the coming session by Senator Zaffirrini and will once again be defeated. I hope you will accept the will of the legislature on this basic constitutional issue.
Texas Motorcycle Rights Association
The AG should reject this end-run around legislative authority. They'll meet in just a few months and there will be plenty of time then to fight over this topic.