Friday, May 20, 2005

More Big Brother for Your Safety

Increasing the state's power to monitor its citizens is a bipartisan sport in the 79th Legislature.

Tonight, during an often testy debate on HB 2702, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Sen. Florence Shapiro stopped an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Jackson (R-La Porte) that would prevent cities from placing cameras on traffic signals to catch motorists running red lights.

Today municipalities have that right. The police power expansion was snuck into law last session on a huge omnibus bill as an amendment after the House voted it down overwhelmingly as a bill. This session, once again, the House voted 130 to 14 on HB 1347 to remove the power. The bill died in a Senate committee.

Tonight, Jackson tried to put his amendment onto HB 2702, a transportation bill that has turned into a Christmas tree affair. (It hasn't passed yet. The Senate broke shortly before 10 p.m. after 30-odd amendments, and more to go.)

Sen. Jackson said about the cameras: "I think it's too much Big Brother."

He was strongly challenged by Sen. Whitmire, whose city of Houston wants to snap away. Whitmire returned again and again to the point that these cameras would only take photos of license plates not car interiors. And it appears some municipalities may have agreed to do this, but it is not state law. More voyeuristic cities can photograph anything.

Which brings us to the biometrics bill HB 2337 that was heard in Senate committee on Wednesday. Remember this one? It creates a DPS database of our appearance that they can dip into whenever they want.

How long will it be before they can match the cameras to the database?

The biometrics bill will be heard on the floor of the Senate on Saturday.