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In Detailed Speech, Abbott Unveils Proposals for Privacy, Ethics, DNA

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott unveiled several new policy proposals related to ethics reform and privacy rights in an address Monday to a Tea Party group in North Texas.

Ross Ramsey, Executive Editor of The Texas Tribune, speaks with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott during a one-on-one session of The Texas Tribune Festival on Sep. 28, 2013.

BEDFORD — In the most detailed speech since launching his bid for governor earlier this year, Attorney General Greg Abbott laid out a dozen new policy proposals Monday evening, touching on ethics reform, privacy rights, education, guns and Obamacare.

“I’m showing, if you would, a new kind of Republican candidate. One that is very substantive. One that has a lot of policy details,” Abbott said after delivering a 25-minute speech to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party that drew a standing ovation. 

On ethics reform, Abbott said he wanted elected officials to have to disclose "any conflicts they or their family members have with any state agency or any local governmental body,” and to strengthen current laws that block legislators from voting on legislation that could result in a financial benefit for them.

“They’re supposed to be working for you, not their own bank accounts,” Abbott said.

The policy proposals suggested that the Abbott campaign may be preparing to make a campaign issue of conflict-of-interest allegations lobbed by critics of Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis in her 2012 re-election campaign.

Abbott also advocated for ending the long-standing tradition of candidates disclosing large, last-minute contributions after an election.

“I’m proposing that candidates should not be able to spend contributions of $5,000 or more in the final 30 days of a campaign until that contribution is disclosed online,” Abbott said.

The attorney general agreed that some of his ethics proposals are similar to ones that were proposed by lawmakers in this year’s regular legislative session and failed to gain traction.

“I do feel like there’s going to be a new opportunity to make the push to get them passed,” he said after the speech. “For one, because I am going to campaign on the issue and, if elected, I am going to have a mandate to get these issues passed.”

Abbott also proposed changes to state privacy laws. He described his proposals as pushing back against federal and state efforts to turn government “into Big Brother.”

“Government agencies like the NSA, like the IRS, like the EPA, are increasingly using tools to look at our emails, to tap into our phone calls, to look at our financial information or our health records,” Abbott said.

He said he wanted to bar state agencies from selling Texans’ personal information without their consent. Abbott described the practice as routine at agencies including the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas Department of Health Services.

He also proposed creating “a personal property right for your DNA.”

“Your DNA belongs to you, and no one else has the right to access that information without your consent,” Abbott said. “But the reality is that advances in technology are threatening that privacy right… You should have control over how your information about your DNA is used.”

He next waded into the debate over red light cameras, one which he acknowledged pits those arguing the safety value of the devices against those with privacy concerns.

“I believe it should be up to you, the people, to decide whether red light cameras is right for a community,” Abbott said, explaining that he would push to change state law to allow for voters to push for a ballot initiative to repeal a local red light camera ordinance.

During the speech, Abbott also said he supports barring school districts from hiring lobbyists to lobby the state legislature for funding. He also supports allowing Texans to legally carry guns on college campuses and changing the law to allow Texans to openly carry firearms.

Abbott ended his speech discussing the federal health care reform law.

“I will support legislation that prevents creating state exchanges that try to implement Obamacare,” Abbott said. “I will work to make it illegal to use any state resources to implement that flawed law.”

The speech came two weeks after Abbott's first policy address of his gubernatorial campaign, which focused on state spending. He said more policy addresses are coming, including ones on education and border security. He gave a preview of his education platform, explaining he wants to “get away from the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to educating our students” and “drive a stake through the heart of CSCOPE,” referring to the state's controversial curriculum delivery system.

Abbott also said he has a plan to secure the border.

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