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Mr. Smith Goes for Wiretapping Austin REPRESENTATIVE Terral Smith stood up on a Tuesday morning, the fifth of March, and spoke briefly to a noisy and inattentive House about the merits of the Texas wiretap law. The mild-mannered and moderate Republican from Travis County was carrying a bill with one plain purpose: to make wiretapping a permanent tool of Texas law enforcement instead of a temporary experiment. The legislature had enough reservations about wiretapping when it was first approved in 1981 to set an expiration date of September 1, 1985, but now Smith urged his colleagues to remove the expiration date. One had to wonder what the distracted House members were gabbing about as the question of police snooping was put before them. Was there discussion among them of state eavesdropping, breaking and entering, tapping and bugging? Were legislators animated with lively thoughts about the problems of democracy its checks and balances, its risky tradeoffs, its precarious curves and bends? More likely, there was lingering gossip about how a junior representative that morning had almost pulled a fast one and slipped a surprise school prayer resolution in with the day’s Smith recognized wiretapping as “an intrusion” but said “I have come down on the side that it is better to get the big drug dealers.” routine measures. Just as likely, the representatives were talking about horse racing the vote on legalized betting was near. Maybe they talked of what they had for breakfast and where they were going for lunch. But wiretapping? One got the feeling they weren’t talking about wiretapping. After Terral Smith introduced his bill, a floor amendment briefly caught some members’ attention and merited a short debate, then Smith’s wiretapping bill was passed to its third reading by a vote of 101-16. The next day it was finally passed by an even larger margin. The bill is sure to get more attention in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, but ultimately the continuation of wiretapping is not in doubt in the Senate either. The upper chamber passed the law in 1981 with only five negative votes and since then one of the dissenters \(former San Antonio Sen. Sen. Cyndi Meanwhile, the smooth and sure progress the wiretapping bill made through the House is another notch in the boot for Speaker Gib Lewis. The Speaker embraced wiretapping early, called it part of “the Speaker’s anti-crime package” and induced the likeable Rep. Smith to take responsibility for it. The Speaker has commented this session that he prefers not to have too awful much debate about things on the House floor that’s really not the place for it, in his opinion. Instead, the Speaker says, the place to work on a bill is in the committee process. You see how things work though: the Speaker had set up the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee in such a way as to ensure as smooth a ride there as there was on the floor. He gave the committee chairmanship to Republican Smith and appointed two other law-and-order Republicans to the nine-member committee. TERRAL SMITH’S House Bill 10 is a one-page bill. The only change it makes in the law is to take away the “sunset” provision so the wiretapping law is not reviewed. At heart, it was really the 1981 Gov. Bill Clements “Break, Enter and Bug” law that was at issue all over again. At Smith’s committee hearing on Feb. 11 a long line of witnesses testified to how valuable and praiseworthy the law had been over that last four years. The Department of Public been using the wiretap authority with an eye toward eventually having to re justify it in front of the legislature. The DPS came prepared now with facts and figures, and tales of bigtime drug dealers caught and loads of illicit cocaine and amphetamines seized. Rep. Smith, for his part, told the committee he had fewer reservations about wiretapping now than he did when the bill was first passed. He recognized then as now that it is “an intrusion on members of our society,” he said. ‘But I have come down on the side that it is better to get the big drug dealers.” Wiretap proponents have been successful in making the drug issue the central issue, but it is easy to imagine other standins that would have worked just as well organized crime and gambling, for example. Those issues may be argued in coming years, but for now the law restricts DPS wiretapping to drug investigations only. Though it has been used “very sparingly,” Col. Adams testified, “the wiretapping statute did what we set out to do.” He spoke of a major cocaine market being broken up, and an amphetamines operation covering “half of West Texas” that had been fingered. The DPS has made 164 arrests and 56 convictions due to wiretapping investigations over the last four years, he said. But the director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union, Gara Lamarche, said the DPS record was a “failed experiment.” Besides opposing the law on privacy grounds, he argued that DPS had spent nearly a million dollars from 1981 to 1983 for a relative handful of convictions, and had listened in on nine innocent people for every one “criminal.” Adams admitted that the process is costly each wiretap costs about $29,000 but said that much of this money would be spent anyway because it went to employee salaries. He argued that there is simply no other way to catch certain individuals in the drug trade without tapping phones. As to whether DPS would be likely to abuse the authority, he said, “You can ask that about anything police do.” “I’ve always wondered,” said Rep. Jim Parker, DComanche, tossing a big soft pitch to Adams, “is it [police wiretapping] any more subject to abuse than anything else?” No, said Col. Adams, police could misuse their guns, but you wouldn’t want to take those away. Such was the level of debate as wiretapping passed through the committee process. SMITH’S BILL was referred to subcommittee, where Rep. Debra Danburg tried to amend it by putting an expiration date back in. She was overruled 2-1. The bill was heard in committee Feb. 18. Again Danburg tried to amend the bill by bringing it up for sunset review in 1987. Rep. Tony Polumbo, D-Houston, pointed out that “we’ve had 4 MARCH 22, 1985