Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Newest Buffoonery From Governor Goodhair: Criminal Background Checks During Hurricanes

Imagine: You're one of the several million people who live in the Houston area, and there's a massive Category 5 hurricane headed straight at you. You're trying to get on an evacuation bus, but officials must first run a criminal background check on your ass.

You have outstanding warrants for parking tickets -- so they separate you from the decent folk. You eventually get loaded onto the "Group W" bus. (Apologies to Arlo Guthrie.) Meanwhile, everybody, decent or otherwise, waits.

This is more or less what would happen in Texas under a new state plan, one that was hatched during Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry's re-election campaign of 2006. (Maybe you remember -- that one he won with about 40% of the vote.) Apparently they had such a terrible problem with moe-lesters preying upon children, handicapped folks and the elderly during past evacuations that it became imperative to do something like this, once and for all. No more moe-lestations on inland-bound buses. We put them on separate buses, where the pre-verts can commit their pre-versions on each other.

As much as I don't want to see innocent people put on the evacuation bus sitting beside the next John Wayne Gacy, this seems like a bureaucratic nightmare in the making. The implementation alone seems very daunting. This is from the report from The Houston Chronicle:


The idea, according to Jack Colley, (the state's emergency management director) is to keep sex offenders and others who may be wanted by police off the same buses used by the most vulnerable during an evacuation: the elderly, disabled residents and children.

"This will allow us to help them evacuate," Colley said of sex offenders and others wanted for crimes. "We're not going to leave anyone."

Though the intent is to make sure vulnerable evacuees aren't victimized, Colley acknowledged that culling sex offenders and other criminals from a herd of evacuees during a potentially chaotic evacuation comes with plenty of challenges.

"We'll be able to do it," he said of the task, declining to be more specific about the process because of safety concerns.

Again, the main idea is to separate the most vulnerable evacuees from wicked predators, a manifestly noble concept. But there are problems in the making. Here's more from The Chronicle:

Earlier this month, it was announced AT&T Inc. has contracted with the Texas Governor's Division of Emergency Management to provide electronic wristbands for those residents wanting them, before they board an evacuation bus.

The wristbands would be scanned by emergency management officials and the person's name would be added to a bus boarding log. That person's name and their bus information would be sent wirelessly to the University of Texas Center for Space Research data center.

When the evacuee arrives at a designated shelter, the wristband would be scanned again to help state employees respond to inquiries from the public about the safety and location of evacuated family members.

The decision to wear a wristband is purely voluntary. But anyone who boards an evacuation bus will have to provide a name. There will be no requirement to show an identification card, such as a driver's license, but officials may ask those boarding for an ID.

Colley confirmed that all of those names will be checked against existing sex offender registries and other criminal background databases. Colley said officials are not interested in evacuees' past criminal convictions, only if they have outstanding warrants, are sex offenders or parolees.

After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 1,700 parolees failed to check in with authorities in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

I suppose the wristband policy will placate people whose concern is efficiency. Perhaps tattoos could be considered, but I guess those are too permanent. People can backslide, you know.

The notion seems to warrant some rethinking. I have been diligent in paying what few parking tickets I have been cited with in my time. But my memory isn't flawless; I may have forgotten one or two from my somewhat misspent youth. Suppose it came up during evacuation time, and they make me sit in the "Group W" bus next to John Wayne Gacy? That "outstanding warrants" stipulation seems to leave much room for interpretation.

Just chalk it up to Governor Goodhair's many pendejo notions. This is a man who graduated from Texas A&M with a 2.3 grade-point average, and his major was animal husbandry. He usually has to get even his bad ideas from advisers, so the plan probably wasn't even his.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this is implemented. More from The Chronicle:

What the state is doing, is perfectly legal, according to at least one expert.

"Since it's a government record they're checking you against, there is not the same invasion of privacy concerns that may come up in other contexts," said professor Charles Rhodes, who teaches constitutional law at South Texas College of Law. "I think the need for it would outweigh any privacy concerns. This is a public safety issue"

Rhodes' only reservation would be the system itself, whether it's set up to handle, perhaps, a false match indicating someone had a criminal record when they did not. He also wants to know how smoothly such checks could be processed.

"It's going to be interesting to see how this is implemented in the time of an emergency," Rhodes said.

No shit.

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.