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BAD BILLS Fear & Leaching in the Lege Licensing Prejudice SB 944 HB 1845 Mrs. Beverly Ogden was justifiably outraged when she learned from news reports that a number of the September 11 hijackers had valid drivers’ licenses while at the same time they were wanted by the INS or FBI. Since the federal agencies don’t deign to brief local police departments, patrolmen even stopped, but didn’t detain, at least one of the hijackers. This oversight is a fine example of a federal law enforcement agency failing to communicate with local officials. Enter Mrs. Ogden, who urged her husbandthe Texas Senate Chair for the Committee on Infrastructure Development and Security to do something about this situation. With unerring ability, Sen. Ogden hatched an idea that will make the Lone Star State both less safe and more polarized. SB 944 has two parts, both aimed directly at non-citizens. The first requires that the expiration date of a person’s visa or residency card coincide with that of their license. The date would be plainly visible on the card. The second part of SB 944 is so gratuitous, the author made it clear in committee he is willing to jettison the provision, if need be. Emblazoned on the driver’s license would be the word “non-citizen.” Needless to say, representatives of Texas’ soon-to-be majority Latino population were uncompromising and quite angry in their testimony when the bill appeared before Ogden’s committee on March 31. \(The only person testify ing in favor was Mary Lynn Gerstenschlager of the Eagle Forum, who dutiwitnesses compared the proposal to the yellow star forced on Jews in Nazi Germany. But beyond the rhetoric, they presented a number of practical and common-sense reasons why this bill is bad policy. Of course, logic is a devalued currency in the Lege these days. The bill must worry the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose new job it would be to keep track of immigrants and visitors. Immigration status is often a moving target. As Joe Sanchez from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund \(MALhave an expiration date, but the individual’s status does not terminate when the document does. A legal permanent resident, by far the most common form of immigrant status, is an indefinite, permanent status by definition. Ana Yanez-Correa, legislative policy director for LULAC, explained to senators that the bill would force immigrants to circumvent the law, resulting in more people on the road without a license or insurance. “This hurts national security by creating an incentive for people not to trust law enforcement,” she said. Latino representatives reiterated that the best way to address the chairman’s concerns was to make it easier for people to get a driver’s license, and thus be in a position to keep better track of them. There is currently a bill filed to do just that, HB 57, sponsored by Rep. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed similar legislation last sesTexas ACLU Executive Director Will Harrell noted that racial profiling data collected by local police agencies indicate that Hispanics are three to four times more likely to be searched. “This would create a greater incentive for local sheriffs to stop people who look like immigrants,” said Harrell. Many witnesses brought up the financial cost in a time of budgetary crisis. The fiscal note for SB 944 is a paltry $341,380. A study of a similar law in Virginiaa state neither Texassized nor on the borderplaced the price tag at $5.5 million. But despite these reasoned argumentsand putting aside Republican outrage at so-called illegal immigrants driving on valid licensesfear from 9/11 permeated the committee meeting. Afterward, committee member Sen. that the bill will likely get out of committee on a party line vote, four Democrats losing to five Republicans. What happens when, and if, it reaches the Senate floor remains to be seen. But the senator from the border knows that in the real world, economics drive immigration. “What will be the effect [of this bill] on the Dallas construction industry?” he wondered. Fowl Play SB 1361/1363 HB 168 Something smells foul in East Texas, and it’s not just the poultry industry. Rep. Wayne Christian and Sen. Todd Staples have introduced three bills between them that would weaken, repeal, and negate law that allows the Texas Commission on Environmental 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4111103