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Southbound Checkpoints Face Uphill Battle

A measure eyed by some lawmakers as a means to stop the flow of illicit cash and weapons into Mexico via the Texas border is on life support.

Texas Department of Public Safety patch worn on a uniform during an April 7, 2011 graduation ceremony in Austin.

A measure eyed by some lawmakers as a means to stop the flow of illicit cash and weapons into Mexico via the Texas border is on life support.

An amendment to a Department of Motor Vehicles “clean-up” bill, HB 2357 by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would grant the Texas Department of Public Safety the authority to erect southbound checkpoints 250 yards away from an international border crossing into Mexico to search for cash, drugs, ammunition and weapons. It was offered by state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who tried and failed to have the measure adopted as a stand-alone bill earlier this session.

HB 2357 seeks to modernize DMV record sharing, retention and vehicle registration, which Pickett says makes the amendment too unrelated to be attached to his bill.

“It’s not something this bill had anything to do with,” Pickett said. He fears fighting to keep the amendment on will kill the entire bill, which he said would also expand the DMV's online capabilities for titling, registration and liens.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is the Senate sponsor of the bill and accepted the amendment after two lines in Lucio’s original bill were altered to include in the checkpoints’ purposes checking for the fraudulent titling of stolen vehicles heading south.

Aside from his doubts that the amendment in germane, Pickett also expressed concern over what the checkpoints could mean for local law enforcement and business interests on the border.

“Local police and sheriff’s department already do a lot of this interdiction now,” he said. Adding DPS in to the mix could lead to “turf” battles, he said. Commercial truckers may also be inconvenienced, he said, as lines to enter Mexico during peak hours are already backed up on Texas’ southbound highways. The cities of Laredo and El Paso are two of the country’s busiest land ports with Mexico.

Lucio said the inconvenience is worth it.

“My concern continues to be not having the ability or doing as much as we should to seize any guns, ammunition, or cash that is going south. Obviously those three items represent the lifeline [of the cartels],” he said. “This is the only opportunity we have in this whole session to pass a homeland security measure.”

Lucio said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, his son and a lawmaker from San Benito, is speaking with Pickett and the House parliamentarian about the issue in the hopes of convincing the two that the amendment is germane. (The House parliamentarian makes the ultimate decision.) Late afternoon Rep. Lucio said negotiations were ongoing.

If the amendment fails it will be another blow to lawmakers’ last-ditch efforts to revive border and homeland security measures this session.

Williams attached a piece of SB 9, a multifaceted homeland security bill that failed to move out of the House, as an amendment to HB 2734 by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano. The amendment would require the names of all persons arrested to be run through the federal Secure Communities initiative. HB 2734 relates to the deportation of illegal immigrants who have been incarcerated and released from prison. Madden said the amendment is not germane, however, and wouldn’t accept the amendment in conference.

Williams acknowledged time is running out, but said there was still time to find a vehicle.

“We’re working everything that we can on it,” he said. “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

The regular session ends Monday.

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State government 82nd Legislative Session Department of Public Safety State agencies Texas Legislature