In 2013, state Sen. Craig Estes (R) of Wichita Falls and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D) of McAllen both filed ultimately unsuccessful legislation to require law enforcement to gain warrants to access cell-phone location data, except in emergencies or at the request of the phone owner. A similar provision by state Rep. Bryan Hughes passed the Texas House as an amendment on a 126-4 vote but was not included in the final bill.
Now, Sen. Estes chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee which has received an interim charge to recommend legislation on a topic he was already championing! That should give cell-phone privacy legislation a significant boost in the 84th session.
The story of the current interim charges on electronic privacy is an object lesson regarding the unpredictable vicissitudes of politics. Interim charges were first requested by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but were not assigned by Speaker Joe Straus. One hopes Straus is not blocking the effort to spite the House author, with whom he has feuded in the past on other matters. After all, the bill had 107 joint and co-authors including a majority of reps from both parties! Most of his members want this!
Anyway, those of us hoping for movement on this bill were a bit deflated. Then, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst revived the issue, assigning an excellent set of interim charges on these and related topics to the Senate State Affairs Committee. Suddenly, it looked like the issues would receive a thorough vetting before the 84th Legislative session after all. At least, right up until State Affairs Committee Chair Robert Duncan left his post to become Chancellor of Texas Tech and the Lt. Governor lost his primary and became a lame duck, as did the committee's vice chair, Robert Deuell (a great if under-remarked loss to the body on many levels). With the committee leaderless, a State Affairs staffer told me as recently as last month that they likely wouldn't hold hearings and would somehow generate a committee report without them.
|Texas Senate State Affairs Chairman Craig Estes|
The House was already primed to pass the Hughes/Estes/Hinojosa legislation and this development sets the bill up to have a much better chance in the Senate in 2015.
Of course, there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. If Dan Patrick comes in as Lt. Governor and replaces Estes as State Affairs chair, that could reverse what currently looks like home-field advantage for the bill in that particular committee, depending on the replacement. And who knows where Greg Abbott will come down on the topic? Time will tell. But the odds of a cell-phone privacy bill's passage next year improved tremendously with Craig Estes' ascension to chairman of State Affairs, no question about it.