AUSTIN — Transnational gangs fueled by Mexican drug cartels are the biggest threat to security in Texas, said the state’s homeland security chief at a Feb. 1 hearing at the Capitol.
Steve McCraw, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, told members of the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee that his office and partner agencies are battling the gangs’ multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise through multi-jurisdictional “fusion centers.”
These fusion centers are tasked with “connecting the dots” to prevent acts of terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and serial crimes by pooling the intelligence efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Texas is home to several of the 70 fusion centers that report to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
McCraw said roving wiretaps would help law enforcement track gangs that use throwaway cell phones.
McCraw also addressed security in the Capitol complex. He said the Department of Public Safety has a plan that includes X-ray machines and metal detectors to increase protections and does not turn the Capitol into an armed fortress.
And, McCraw addressed the estimated 3,000 Texas highway traffic deaths in 2009. About 15 percent of those deaths involved commercial trucks and tractor trailers.
Regarding the new federal law banning commercial truck operators from typing and sending text messages while driving, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Dallas, pointed out the difficulty in enforcing the ban. She brought up the line-of-sight issue: drivers in truck cabs are hard for troopers in sedans to catch in the act of texting. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said enforcement would be after the fact, by comparing the time of the accident with cell phone records.
The House and Senate committees also had questions about “Real ID” — the authentication system that ties together a Texas driver’s license, voter registration and citizenship. McCraw said the state is getting better at detecting fake licenses and other forms of false identification.
Ag chief calls for Haiti help
State Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on Feb. 1 asked farmers and ranchers to help Haiti, with more than 2 million people in need of food and water after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“Texas is a state large in geography and even larger in heart and compassion,” Staples said. “Texans have always responded to those in crisis, and right now, the Haitian people desperately need our assistance.
“Whether it’s a surplus food commodity, a volunteer service or a monetary donation, I know the Texas agriculture community and citizens of Texas can find ways to mobilize resources and offer assistance.”
The Texas Peanut Producers Board already has responded and is working to deliver peanut butter.
Shelly Nutt, executive director of the Texas Peanut Producers Board, said Texas peanut farmers have combined efforts with the entire U.S. peanut industry to raise more than $75,000 to purchase peanut butter for Haiti.
Work program features incentives
“Texas Back to Work,” a two-year, $15 million employment program promoted by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and funded by the state Legislature last session, will offer employers incentives such as subsidized-wage reimbursements or retention bonuses for hiring qualified out-of-work Texans.
Grants under the program are available to employers through the 28 Texas local workforce development boards, which also provide employers with workforce recruitment assistance, pre-screening of qualified applicants and training programs.
More than 1.8 million customers were served in more than 240 workforce centers across Texas last year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Computer recycling figures in
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in late January announced first-year results in its computer recycling program.
The agency reported manufacturers collected for reuse or recycling 12.4 million pounds of computer equipment in Texas from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2009.
The program, which helps conserve reusable materials including copper, lead and steel, requires computer manufacturers that sell in Texas to offer consumers convenient, free recycling for their brands of computer equipment.
Currently, 81 manufacturers representing 116 brands are participating in the program.