Digital driver’s licenses, such as now set up in Iowa, could be studied for use in Texas under a bipartisan measure being considered by the Texas Legislature.
Photograph By DIGITALTRENDS.COM
Texans could one day soon have the option of carrying virtual version’s of their driver’s license on their smartphone under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, that is making its way through the state legislature. His proposal, originally contained in his House Bill 640, was attached as an amendment to Senate Bill 1934 on Monday, May 25. An amendment is a proposed change – either by adding new language and/or deleting existing language – to a bill or resolution as it moves through the legislative process. Canales was successful in adding the entire text of HB 640 to the language of Senate Bill 1934, by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, which deals with changing requirements for driver’s licenses, personal ID information. “Recently enacted legislation allowed drivers to show proof of auto insurance on their smartphones and reports indicate that other states have passed similar laws,” Canales said of his HB 640. “In an effort to continue this digital trend, my legislation requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct a study concerning the use of a digital image for identification and proof of licensure purposes.” Now, through SB 1934, which is awaiting a final vote by the House of Representatives, Canales’ idea would result in Texas developing a system where such digital driver licenses could become a reality in Texas within the next few years. “Other major states are looking at this option, and my amendment to SB 1934 would give us until the fall of 2016 to come up with the pros and cons, anticipate and fix any shortcomings, and protect the privacy of individuals who prefer to have digital versions of their driver license, rather than the plastic type,” said Canales. Iowa and Delaware are the first two states to set up such a system, while this spring, as of March 10, 2015, other states are also looking at similar measures, including Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Under Canales’ amendment to SB 1934: The DPS would be required to conduct a study determining the feasibility of establishing a system to allow a person to use a digital image displayed on an electronic device for identification purposes or to prove that the person has a driver’s license; The DPS would evaluate risks to personal information security that such a system might create; The DPS would survey and evaluate digital identification and proof of licensure policies in other states; and The DPS would be required, not later than September 1, 2016, to submit a detailed report of its findings and recommendations to the legislature.
Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, speaking from the back microphone on the floor of the House of Representatives in April 2015.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Texans’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure would be better protected under legislation sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge before being allowed to look at the contents of a cell phone or other wireless communications device belonging to individuals who are involved in a search incident to arrest. In general, a search incident to arrest, formally known as a search incident to lawful arrest (SITA) or the Chimel rule, is defined as a legal principle that allows police to perform a warrantless search of an arrested person, and the area within the arrestee’s immediate control, in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape, and the destruction of evidence. In addition to protecting Texans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights, Senate Bill 1864 “gives our law enforcement officers a clean and clear description of how to handle the search of a cell phone,” Canales added. The measure, whose primary author is Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, passed the Senate on Thursday, April 30. Canales secured passage by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence – of which he is a member – on Friday, May 21. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is a joint author of Burton’s SB 1864, which was approved by the Senate on Thursday, April 30. “Unless it is an emergency that involves the safety of our law enforcement officers, or the police reasonably believe the information in the phone is vital to saving someone’s life, a search warrant must be obtained before they can begin looking at all the information – some if it very private – that all of us have in our cell phones,” said Canales. He noted that when an individual is stopped for an alleged offense, police can examine a cell phone to make sure it can not be used as a weapon against them. “Police can look at the contents of a cell phone or other wireless communications device without a search warrant if the owner of the phone consents, the phone is reported stolen, or if the officer reasonably believes the phone is in possession of a fugitive from justice for whom an arrest warrant has been issued for a felony offense,” Canales added. According to U.S. Courts (uscourts.gov), the Constitution, through the Fourth Amendment, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The Fourth Amendment, however, is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law. Whether a particular type of search is considered reasonable in the eyes of the law, is determined by balancing two important interests, according to U.S. Courts. On one side of the scale is the intrusion on an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. On the other side of the scale are legitimate government interests, such as public safety. Burton characterized SB 1864 as “a privacy protection bill that takes proactive steps to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of not only Texans, but of all who come to our great state. We now carry around with us everyday items that contain more personal information, photos, contacts, and transcripts of conversations than most people kept in their homes just ten years ago. A police officer looking through a cell phone’s contents is as invasive a search as rummaging through every private paper and item in your home.” In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that during a search incident to arrest, a warrant is required in order to search a cell phone or other wireless communication device. In his concurrence to that decision, Justice Samuel Alito called for legislatures to not allow privacy protections in the 21st century to rely primarily upon the blunt instrument of the Fourth Amendment, and to take up the challenge of placing into statue the protections necessary to guarantee those rights in this ever changing technological environment.
Featured, from left: Michael McCarthy with MD Bio Scan; Sabrina Guerra, Senior Accountant, and Nilda VanHook, Chief Deputy, both with the Office of the Hidalgo County District Clerk; Laura Hinojosa, who is Hidalgo County District Clerk; and Jessica Treviño with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s Office, during an open house at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2015. An additional $40 fee for the filing of civil lawsuits in Hidalgo County, of which the District Clerk Office serves as registrar, recorder, and custodian, is being proposed in state legislation designed to help generate millions of dollars, without raising property taxes, for the construction of a new Hidalgo County Courthouse.
Photograph By HILDA SALINAS
Legislation that could raise between $1 million and $2 million a year for the next 30 years to help pay for a new courthouse or renovations of the existing 64-year-old facility in downtown Edinburg – without increasing property taxes – has been approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was supported by that House panel on Wednesday, May 20, after Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, successfully offered an amendment to Hinojosa’s SB 1964 that could generate more money than originally estimated, but without increasing property taxes. Martínez and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, are the primary author and joint author, respectively, of the companion bill for SB 1964. SB 1964, which is now on the way for action by the House of Representatives, has two major changes from the original version of SB 1964 approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29. Instead of authorizing the county commissioners court to charge up to an extra $20 for the filing of each civil lawsuit, as originally proposed, SB 1964 doubled that amount to $40. In addition, Cameron County was added to SB 1964, which would give the County Commissioners Court the same authority to raise revenue for their own courthouse plans, whether they involve a new courthouse or renovations to the existing structure in Brownsville. SB 1964, as approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, also would allow both county commissioners courts to collect an extra $10 fee for each filing of real property records. Real property records are official documents filed with the county clerk’s office such as mortgages, warranty deeds, deeds of trust, power-of-attorney, material liens, notices of foreclosure, oil and natural gas liens, mineral deeds, equity liens, and releases of liens. If the House approves SB 1964, it would have to go back to the Senate for their agreement on increasing the fee by up to $40 for the filing of civil lawsuits. After that, it would go to the governor for his approval. SB 1964 could help raise significant non-tax revenue for the construction of a $100+ million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the heart of Canales’ House District 40 legislative district. “The Hidalgo County Courthouse complex is one of the major economic engines, along with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, that is part of a tremendous revitalization that is going on in deep South Texas,” Canales said. “Just as important, South Texans need a courthouse that provides a safe and secure environment for the administration of justice for individuals and businesses.” SB 1964 allows Hidalgo and Cameron counties to collect a civil courts filing fee similar to the one currently collected in Bexar, Hays, Dallas, Rockwall, and Travis counties to assist with the costs of renovating, improving, or constructing new courthouse facilities, said Hinojosa. For years, Hidalgo county officials have spoken of the need to replace the county’s existing courthouse in Edinburg, Hinojosa and Martínez noted. “When the existing courthouse opened in 1954, it housed two state district courts and one county court-at-law. That has grown to 11 district courts and eight county courts-at-law, along with other auxiliary courts that have spilled into temporary buildings and one nearby storefront in downtown Edinburg,” said Martínez. “In the past 24 years, Hidalgo County’s population has doubled and the county is now home to up to 900,000 residents. Further, the dated structure and history of asbestos requires constant maintenance and repairs raising public health and safety concerns as wells as costs.”
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, May 5, secured passage by the House of Representatives of his House Bill 1015, which will help Texas district judges rehabilitate petty criminals while they pay their debts to society.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Texas taxpayers will save money while improving the rehabilitation of tens of thousands of petty criminals every year, many of them serving drug-related sentences, under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which was approved on Tuesday, May 5 by the House of Representatives. House Bill 1015 would require the Texas Department of Corrections, which supervises 19 state jails in Texas, to notify a district judge, about two weeks ahead of time, when a felon sentenced in their court will have been locked up in a state jail for 75 days. Currently after the first 75 days served in state jails, offenders can be bench warranted back into community supervision, yet experts testified that this rarely occurs because judges do not have an adequate mechanism to monitor this benchmark for each offender, according to a 2014 study by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, of which Canales is a member. “State jails are notorious for being more expensive than even state prison, and for offenders who are serious about straightening out their lives, a judge can bring them back home for meaningful rehabilitation programs, diversion treatment, and community supervision, which costs taxpayers a fraction of keeping them in state jails,” Canales said. When the Texas state jail system was first created in 1993, it was intended to remove petty-criminals – many of them convicted of drug-related crimes – from contact with violent offenders as found in the prison system, reduce overcrowding in the prison system, and emphasize treatment and rehabilitation with the goal of reducing the chance those felons would wind up in trouble with the law again, the House committee study noted. But, Canales said, the state jail system – which currently houses around 10,000 “detainees” – is failing because it has is now used for warehousing inmates with no programs to provide rehabilitation. “Right now, no one lets the judge know when an offender who was sentenced in their court can begin the journey to becoming a law-abiding citizen, and instead, they wind up being forgotten for up to two years,” he added. “House Bill 1015 would let our judges take the important steps needed to prepare these offenders to return back to society, as they pay their debt to society.” The reliance on keeping offenders in state jails over community supervision has been criticized for costing taxpayers more money per offender, the House committee noted in its legislative findings, which were published on January 12, 2015. State jails average about $43 per day per offender. This cost is less than prison inmates cost per day, but when one takes into account the higher recidivism rate of state jail offenders, the fact they do not receive meaningful rehabilitation programs, and no parole, the cost is a poor return on taxpayers’ investment; especially for repeat offenders. In comparison, diversion treatment and community supervision costs an average of $10 per day. Therefore, state jails are no longer the backup to community supervision, but are the primary response to state jail felonies with minimal rehabilitation opportunities and maximum sentences served, the legislative committee also concluded. Canales credited Nueces County 117th District Judge Sandra Watts for bringing the issue to light when she testified before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence during its public hearing held in Corpus Christi on Tuesday July 29, 2014. Canales credited Nueces County 117th District Judge Sandra Watts for bringing this and other issues to light when she testified before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence during its public hearing held in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Following House passage of HB 1015, Watts reflected, “This bill is another example that Texas is moving towards a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach and away from the ‘War on Drugs’.” During her testimony last summer before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Watts told lawmakers that when the concept of state jails was first introduced, a key goal was to give nonviolent offenders a wake-up call about the consequences of their actions, then bring them back home on probation and rehabilitation. “Problem number one is you are assuming, or the law assumed, that there was a mechanism in place where judges would have a list of everybody they sent away (to state jails). There is no way,” Watts said. “The statute says that after they have served at least 75 days, the district judge has the ability to bench warrant them back and put them on probation. I’m probably as computer literate as they come, and I have spreadsheets about all my inmates, but I can’t keep up with who I’ve sent or this time period.” To further illustrate the need for HB 1015, Watts noted that in 2011, there were 23,000 detainees who went through the state jail system. “Of those 23,000, only 158 in that calendar year were bench warranted (court-ordered) back and put back into community supervision,” she explained. “The intention was perhaps good but has been underutilized. It is not working as perhaps the Legislature in 1993 thought that it would, mainly because of the masses of detainees or the defendants we deal with. We do not have anyway to track them, keep them in our mind.”
Featured, from left: Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim, The University of Texas-Pan American, and Edinburg Mayor Richard H. García, during ceremonies on Friday, February 28, 2015 in Pharr at the Boggus Ford Events Center, where García was honored as one of five alumni named 2015 Pillars of Success, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the region and to UTPA, which will become The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, complete with a full-fledged UT medical school, in late August.
Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA
Fresh off the grand opening of the $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex at the University of Texas-Pan American – and with the nearby $54 million Medical Education Building taking shape – local and state leaders are awaiting final approval on Wednesday, May 14, for the release of funding and final approval of design development for a $70 million Science Building at the Edinburg campus. The upcoming action item by the UT System Board of Regents, which will be part of that governing body’s regularly-scheduled public session in Austin, was announced by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC, whose president of its five-member Board of Directors is Mayor Richard García, is led by Agustín “Gus” García, (no relation to the mayor), the Executive Director for the EEDC. Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim for UT-Pan American, also serves on the EEDC Board of Directors. The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare university students to attend and succeed in the UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016, said Rodríguez. “This facility will provide the research experience that they need, with the expectation that our students will continue through a number of pre-med programs needed to apply to medical school here, and medical schools throughout the country,” Rodríguez explained. “The idea is to get these folks trained, have them get their M.D.s, and return to the Rio Grande Valley, or stay in the Rio Grande Valley to provide the healthcare needs of our population.” The Science Building will help increase the quality and number of courses known as STEM, which stands for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, STEM-related programs became a national priority in 2011 because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields. The U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them. “The four-story Science Building will be built on the Edinburg campus for the benefit of UT-Rio Grande Valley,” the mayor said, citing UT System documents. “The approximately 115,000 gross square foot facility will increase research capacity for approximately 168 researchers and provide four teaching labs allowing students to take courses and labs during the same semester. The project will accommodate 16 additional research labs, two classrooms, 42 faculty offices, 11 staff work stations, and eight suites for research assistants.”