Texas Governor Increases Background Checks and Security around Mansion

By Michael Klazema on 3/12/2013

Lawmakers in Texas are voicing their complaints about the increased security measures when trying to attend a reception at the Governor’s Mansion. One lawmaker, Sylvester Turner, who is the chairman of a Texas Black Legislative Caucus, explained that he was stopped at the mansion and required to undergo a background check before entering. Other representatives voiced similar experiences even after showing their legislative ID cards. Many described the security procedures as offensive and heavy-handed. The reception itself attracted 200-300 people from around the state and world, most of which had already undergone a thorough background check prior to the conference. Although the majority of attendees who had already undergone criminal history checks were allowed in, lawmakers were not. Turner, the host of the event, had no choice but to submit to the check, however others, like Gidding, chose not to attend because of these stringent new policies.

Legislators called together a House Appropriation Committee hearing to ask more about the policy from DPS Director Steve McCraw. For many representatives, this new security measure is over the top. Before becoming a state official, everyone is required to undergo a background check. All lawmakers receive a Department of Public Safety issued ID that, in the past, granted them access of the Governor’s Mansion and also gave them access to the Capital Building. Now, everyone visiting the Governor’s mansion must undergo criminal history checks each time they visit the mansion, even if they had been previously cleared several days before their visit. According to DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, the policy is not a new one. In fact, it has been in effect for approximately ten years. It isn’t until recently that the Governor decided to enforce this policy at the recommendation of DPS.

McCraw assures lawmakers that there have been talks within DPS about changing the policy for legislators. He states, “Obviously there’s not a representative that poses a threat to anyone,” but currently, DPS is not making any exceptions to the rule. These stricter guidelines come in the wake of the suspected arson of the Governor’s Mansion back in 2008. The DPS is working to balance access and the mansion’s safety at the same time.

Despite these explanations, many representatives oppose this policy, wondering why security procedures at the Governor’s Mansion are more stringent than at the White House. For Giddings, these background checks make it appear that the DPS does not trust the state’s elected legislators to be around the governor. She says, “It appears to make those of us who have been cleared to operate in this building…suspect when we go into the governor’s mansion.” The committee is scheduling another hearing for more testimony on the issue. Until the policy is adjusted, lawmakers like Gidding and Turner are refusing to return to the Governor’s Mansion.

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