The Senate today approved a measure that intends to improve the state's homeland security system through increased vigilance over Texas' agriculture and water supplies. Senate Bill 9, by Palestine Senator Todd Staples, comes as a result of an interim charge to the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee to formulate recommendations to reduce the danger to Texans from acts of terrorism. "Homeland security and protecting the physical safety of all 22 million men, women and children who live here in the state of Texas is our highest priority," said Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.
The unifying theme of this bill is mutual aid agreement, where communication and cooperation between relevant state agencies is made easier. SB 9 would permit the Texas Department of Agriculture to contract with private entities to set up checkpoints on roads to ensure the safety of the state's food supply. It also increases the number of state agencies represented on the Homeland Security Council and to the Health Alert Network. The Governor's Office would oversee an interoperable radio and computer communications program to keep the lines of communication open in the event of a state emergency.
SB 9 also takes steps to protect the state's water supply. For example, public water supply facilities would be required to notify authorities if security at a site is compromised by an unauthorized trespasser. The bill also increases the penalty for trespassing at a critical infrastructure facility, increasing the charge from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor for trespassing at a refinery, port, water supply or chemical manufacturing plant.
This is the second public safety bill passed this session by Sen. Staples. The Senate approved SB 11 last month, which increases safety standards at public schools. Staples said that these two bills work together to improve the overall security of all Texans. "I think SB 9, combined with SB 11, the school safety bill, creates a good package that moves this state forward," said Staples. "We know that changes must occur each and every year and I think this moves us in the right direction."
Also today, the Senate passed a bill that would create an agency to oversee Texas forensic crime labs. SB 1263, by Houston Senator John Whitmire, would create the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which would conduct independent investigations of crime labs, medical examiners' offices, police storage facilities or medical facilities following allegations of negligence or misconduct as they relate to the criminal justice system. Not only is the bill designed to increase the reliability of the state's crime labs, it would also make Texas eligible to receive federal grants to improve medical examiners' offices and forensics labs.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 20, at 11 a.m.