They say Texas is the laboratory for bad government, but we can’t take credit for every wrong answer to public policy’s toughest questions. In some cases, like Armbrister’s Senate Bill 460, we’re just bottom feeders in the channels of constitutional corrosion. In early February, a federal appeals court in Virginia – probably the most conservative circuit in the country – stepped out of right field to attack the Miranda decision, the landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling that required law enforcement officials to read a suspect his or her rights at the time of arrest (“You have the right to remain silent,” etc.). The Virginia court based its ruling on a largely forgotten 1968 federal crime law – never enforced because of its suspect constitutionality – that would allow prosecutors to use confessions given freely by suspects, whether or not they had been informed of their right to remain silent. Legal scholars are calling it the most serious threat to Miranda in thirty years, and a likely decision for the Supreme Court.
Never one to wait and see, Armbrister seized the moment to file a Texas version of the Cop-is-Always-Right Bill, which would simply strike the reference to the Miranda warning as it pertains to oral confessions. Early praise for the bill came from Lite Guv Rick Perry. If Armbrister has his way, and the Supreme Court does overturn Miranda, Texas cops will be ready, notebooks in hand.
WHAT PROBABLE CAUSE?
S.B. 398 David Sibley, R—Waco
Part of the gradual Latin Americanization of U.S. public policy (which includes lottery in lieu of taxes, starving public education while encouraging private schools, and limiting citizen access to courts) this bill would make police roadblocks routine. But not to worry: there are limits built into Sibley’s stop-and-search law. Before a roadblock can be set up, an officer of at least the rank of lieutenant would have to authorize it. The officer who will first order you to stop and produce identification and proof of insurance will have to wear a uniform. And no driver or passenger should be held up for more than ten minutes while waiting to pass through the roadblock, which itself should take no more than two minutes. After asking you to produce a driver’s license and proof of insurance for no reason other than the fact that you are out driving your car, no officer could ask you to perform a standard sobriety test – unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are inebriated.
FONICS – AND SCIENCE!
H.B. 1129 John Longoria, D—San Antonio
Not so much a bad bill as a dumb one, “Judge” Longoria’s stealth phonics bill embraces the right-wing panacea described by Governor Bush as the product of the “the most up-to-date science: phonics.” According to H.B. 1129, school superintendents must ensure that “curricula is based on scientific research for elementary reading, spelling, mathematics…” and “staff development in the use of curricula based on scientific research for reading, spelling, and mathematics” would be required in all of the state’s public schools. For elementary teachers, “the use of educational methods and curricula based on scientific research” will be required. What’s all this science got to do with reading and spelling? You have to sound out most of the bill’s words before you get to the line about “scientific research and morphographic spelling” (i.e. phonics) – the pedagogical method the Right promises will stop the decline of Western Civilization while it provides children with word-attack skills to get them past the T.A.A.S. test.
Longoria, a.k.a. “Judge Longoria,” has a second education bill, to ensure that a student expelled from one school district cannot transfer to another. Current law permits local school districts to decide whether they will admit students who transfer in after expulsion. Longoria’s H.B. 1178 doesn’t even allow a school that wants to accept an expelled student the option of the placing the student in alternative learning settings rather than on the streets. The Judge’s bill is a lose-lose proposition: it puts kids on the streets and the school district’s average daily attendance money back into the state’s general revenue coffers.
ROCKET IN MY POCKET?
H.B. 1165 Suzanna G. Hupp, R—Lampasas
Want to know if that’s a gun in the pocket of the strange man next door, or if he’s just glad to see you? Under Hupp’s proposal, for a fee you could ask the Department of Public Safety if he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Hupp, a Central Texas chiropractor and Arabian Horse Breeder, is already the N.R.A.’s poster girl. Here’s yet another notch in her concealed weapon. This bill would only further conceal the handgun in your neighbor’s pocket.
S.B. 1129 Jon Lindsay, R—Houston
Every session generates bills purporting to limit the growth of cities, but actually limiting their ability to control growth or annex suburban areas – although suburbanites work in the city, use city services, and pay few city taxes. Lindsay’s bill is aimed at Houston and perhaps Dallas, as it applies to municipalities with a population of 1.5 million or more. It would require the city to hold an election in an area to be annexed and would prohibit annexation if a majority of potential annexees reject it. The city could not annex any portion of the area for ten years following the election.
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