Thursday, February 7, 2008

TEXAS: When did you file your extension?

It's been a big day for Beat The Chip. I paid a friendly neighborhood visit to the Austin capitol, stopping in for a visit to the Secretary of State's office. I kindly asked the woman working the desk if she knew if Texas had filed an extension for the Real ID Act. She said she had seen the paper passed through the office and was almost completely sure that an extension had been filed for the state of Texas. I then asked her when it was filed and how long the extension was to last. While she searched for information, she mentioned that it was expected increase the cost of a local driver's ID by $25, ad libbing that it was expected to be in effect until 2011.

So what makes an extension relevant?

Unfortunately, the Real ID Act was passed as what is known as an "unfunded mandate" from the federal government. Which means states will be held responsible for the costs of implementation and compliance with the Real ID. The next step in my progressive investigation is to get a budget dollar amount that will be demanded from the people of Texas and the breakdown of when it will be due. From that we may get a tidal wave of outrage; it's bound to cost this red-state more than it ever wanted to pay in taxes.

I began to glance around the office. I spied a framed picture hanging in the S.O.S. gallery of former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Apparently he was Texas' Secretary of State from 1997-1999. Dark appalling images of waterboarding and random Guantanamo visual flotsam drifted across my mind as I patiently waited for the information. I cracked a smile upon recalling the voice of MSNBC's Keith Olberman comparing Gonzales' mind to a rusty contraption.

The woman at the desk snapped me out of my reverie announcing her find of public information from the web and then pointed me to Texas Governor Rick Perry's office. Then settled on a grassy spot on the capitol lawn and made calls to the governors office. After being kicked around from one official desk to anonther I landed at the Texas Homeland Security office. First, speaking to Ethel who was more than a little reluctant to give me any public information on any dates or information about the Real ID extension. She asked me where I was located. She asked me who I was. I said I was a constituent(true) and that this was public information. She gave me partial information and then expected me to scuttle on to Chief Judy Brown's Office, Department of Public Safety.

Note: The Department of Public Safety runs the issuance of Driver's licenses. It is an office separate from the one where you register your vehicle. Upon learning that Texas doesn't have a Department of Motor Vehicles, I understood that the perception of "security" in this state has a lot of "special interests". So it didn't suprise me to find that Texas had a homeland security division with the charge of making sure the rules of the DHS were kept. However, they did pass the buck time and again to possible reluctant DPS, Chief Judy Brown. According to Gretchen Ethel at the Homeland security office, Chief Brown has until the end of February to sign a "committment to implementing the Real ID". This would make the third compliance related deadline that I have heard in a week. Who is telling the truth? The one I was given from the ACLU said that it was as soon as March 31st. I asked for a specific date from Ms. Ethel, none was given, because ol' Gretchie said she didn't have it.

I called again to get more answers, this time speaking slowly and deliberately for the Governor's office reception area. I was put through to Jim Harrison's office, whom I was told was out of the office for the day by Ms. Ethel.

"Who gave you my name?" said Harrison.
"Oh someone at the desk at the governor's office," I said remembering the revolving switchboard of desks and repeating my question over five times before being levied finally onto Ethel.
"Oh. Well those people down there don't like me anyway."

A homeland scurity officer unpopular at the Governor's office in Austin, TX? Austin is only home of 3 Libertarian radio stations, Ron Paul's 2nd largest national following and Alex Jones's syndicate... ;)

He said that he had stepped back in his office and was now available to speak to me about Real ID. Harrison said that Homeland security was responsible for the rules of law {possibly enforcement} for the Real ID and that the development of the budget for the whole of implementation on this affair was on DPS. Yeah yeah..make Judy Brown the bad guy, right DHS? DPS has to come up with the budget, but DHS knew of a possible vendor for the technology, who would get the grandiose Texas Real ID contract bid.

I asked directly maybe I can get those answers soon. Harrison said he would send word on the exactitude of Texas' extension, whether or not that implies or condones complicity, and what it will mean per the implementation of rules for the Texas Department of Public Saftey. TO BE CONTINUED...


On Febreaury 5th I recieved an e-mail from the ACLU regarding Chief Judy Brown, whom was said to be gone for the week in regards Real ID. Later that day, Rebecca Bernhardt with ACLU of Texas got back to me saying that no extension had been filed for the state of Texas, that legislation was largely undecided. I wasn't really altogether sure. Which led me to test that notion today.