Bad Bills

No Nudes is Good Nudes

Enclave Cops House Bill 246 Rep. Tony Goolsby (R-Dallas) Imagine a Texas where the affluent are so fearful that they retreat from the public commons to gated communities protected by exclusive police forces, who, weapons at the ready, are only accountable to the neighborhood association. It appears Rep. Tony Goolsby already has. His HB 246 will allow neighborhoods and apartment complexes to privately hire their own special police force, to be awarded all the same powers as the gun-slinging, handcuff-toting city and state police. If enacted, this latest special police force designation will be the 34th special police category in Texas and would boldly ignore a Senate admonition to quit creating them. T.J. D’Aquino, CEO of Crime Strike, a private security company operating in Goolsby’s district, asked the representative to file the legislation in order to elevate for-profit residential security company personnel to the level of full-fledged police officers. The newly appointed officers would have the authority to make arrests for anything from misdemeanors to felonies. (They will not be allowed to write traffic citations.) The burgeoning industry of special police in Texas includes a force for the Board of Medical Examiners and one to enforce water code. Last session, the Lege authorized a special peace force for the State Board of Dental Examiners. (You can just imagine the television series potential with that one.) The dental cops conduct investigations and then, as certified peace officers, write search warrants and make arrests, for example, of a renegade dentist operating without a license in a garage. These certified peace officers are also required to use their powers to prevent offenses from being committed at any time, in any place, whether by a dentist or some other menace to society, like say, an optometrist. Fortunately, they can be armed 24 hours a day. Special police officers not busy rounding up crooked dentists or any of the other “special” targets often seek outside employment. As certified peace officers they enjoy full-blown police power—all the time. One popular side gig is as a bouncer at a club. The numerous special police forces scattered around the state have less accountability than state and city police departments. No single state agency oversees the special police forces nor does there exist a standard set of guidelines for them. And while Goolsby’s bill does establish limited oversight and some standards of training for his new force, public interest groups like the ACLU are not pleased. “It’s not the same as a department with a chain of command and policies,” said Scott Henson of the Texas ACLU. “Some of these smaller agencies are very underdeveloped in infrastructure and supervisory techniques.” He said the officers receive less rigorous training than state and city police departments. Henson also warned that some neighborhoods may be surprised by the potential cost of having their own police force, especially if the neighborhood association finds itself on the defendant side of a lawsuit. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee, in its interim report last December, recommended that the Legislature “cease and resist” creating special police forces and consider creating one category to include all specialized police forces in order to clarify their functions. Fritz Reinig, chief of staff for Rep. Goolsby’s office, said he was unaware of the report. Naked Time! House Bill 772 Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) Oh, to be a kid again. Remember summer camp? Bonfires. Swimming in the river. Volleyball. These are activities sans clothes offered by the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) at its nudist camps for the 11- to 18-year-old set. Children who have been raised as nudists migrate to their favorite camp in the summertime just like tens of thousands of kids across the nation do. Fortunately this nudism scourge is not available in Texas, nor does the AANR plan on opening any camps here, according to spokeswoman Carolyn Hawkins. But just to be sure, Rep. Bryan Hughes has filed the prophylactic HB 772 to make certain that such camps never get a license in the Lone Star State. In 2003, a then-freshman Rep. Hughes filed this bill during the failed school finance special session. It was determined not to be germane to the political slugfest underway in the fourth special session of that year. A constituent had brought the bill to Hughes after reading a New York Times story about the AANR’s Florida “Youth Leadership Camp.” According to the AANR’s website, the camp aims to “educate and inspire future nudist leaders” and “offer[s] graduates the opportunity to be ambassadors to other nudist youth.” Come for the nudity, stay for the seminar! The Times’ article stated that AANR organizers were planning on opening a nudist youth camp in Texas in 2005. Carolyn Hawkins insists the Paper of Record was mistaken. Hughes did his research and found another article in Georgia’s Gwinnett Daily Post that detailed a particularly disturbing activity at a Virginia camp, “splattering a fellow camper’s nude body with pudding.” That report also contained a quotation from the camp’s manager, Bob Roche. He said of the camp, “Sure, it could be a magnet for pedophiles, but we don’t let it be. We screen everyone thoroughly and, thanks to the [Virginia] governor, we can check online to see if someone’s a sex offender.” Hughes conveniently edited that for a press release, which ominously read, “[Roche] admitted the camps ‘could be a magnet for pedophiles.’” Armed with his good intentions, Hughes crafted his bill, which doesn’t set parameters on what exactly a nudist camp is. Can the children be naked half the time? Can they sleep naked? When asked why nudity wasn’t defined in the bill, Hughes said he wanted to leave it up to the Department of Health and Human Services to define it. “We decided the best route was for the agency to promulgate specific rules,” he said. Hughes would only define nudity thus: “By nudity I mean no clothes.” It remains to be seen how far HHS will go (no showers? no skinny dipping?) if indeed the bill passes. Until then, fetch the volleyball. Let’s get nekkid. Bush Country House Bill 137 Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) There go those Big Government Republicans again. Rep. Ken Paxton’s HB 137 requires all state boundary signs erected by the Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to include the phrase, “Welcome to Texas—Proud to be the Home of President George W. Bush.” “Welcome to Texas” signs already designate the state boundary across highways and interstates around Texas. HB 137 will add plaques with the new phrase to 66 existing signs erected along interstates and U.S. and state highways. TXDOT estimates that the project will cost $28,560. While that’s loose change in the agency’s billion-dollar budget, surely the president would prefer that his adopted home state provide for its neediest citizens before spending money to sing his praises. Consider this: On average, it costs the state $2,412 a year to provide a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant to one impoverished family of three, and $1,534 dollars annually for every Medicaid-eligible child. The cost of the signs could provide TANF grants to as many as 12 more Texas families and enroll 19 more children in the Medicaid program. Of course, Dubya is not particularly known for his modesty. (Remember: “It’s not a swagger. It’s jus’ what we call walking.”) But how about this for fiscal conservatism: There are still three and half more years to go for this president. Anything could happen. How much more might it cost if the state is forced to take the signs down? Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer’s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation. If you have a likely candidate for “Bad Bills,” fax her at (512) 474-1175, or e-mail [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST