E-News from the Office of Senator Van de Putte
I hope this Election Day finds you doing well. Below is helpful information on your polling site and record turnout numbers for Bexar County. Also, included is new information affecting our state.
Today is Election Day, and Bexar County, like the rest of our country, is experiencing an influx of new voters. In fact, the number of registered voters in Bexar County has risen to 925,000. Polling sites throughout the city have reported record early voting turn-out, even with 41 early voting sites (up from 29 in the last presidential election). In fact, over 375,000 votes were cast during early voting in Bexar County, shattering all previous records.
We are seeing such enthusiasm and commitment from voters this election; it is truly an exciting time. If you have not done so already, I urge you to exercise your civic duty this election day and vote!
For information on where to vote, please Bexar County Elections at 210-335-VOTE or log on to: http://elections.bexar.org
DPS Proof of Residency Rule
As of October 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) requires all drivers license and identification card applicants to present proof of United States citizenship and/or lawful permanent residence. Furthermore, this rule only allows for the issuance of drivers licenses or identification cards to individuals authorized to be in Unites States for at least six months. Thus, any person legally in Texas for less than six months, or whose authorized stay will expired within six months, will be denied a drivers license or identification card. As a state agency, DPS instituted this rule without legislative authority, as this type of rule-making authority falls within the Texas Legislature's purview.
In addition to implementing new rules regarding the issuance of Texas drivers licenses and identification cards, The Texas Public Safety Commission ("Commission") sought a Texas Attorney General opinion to consider whether or not the Commission has the authority to set up drivers license checkpoints. Motor vehicle checkpoints have not been implemented in Texas since 1994, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued Holt v. State, 887 S.W.2d. 16 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994). Holt v. Texas is an opinion addressing the constitutionality of checkpoints. In this opinion, the Court held that checkpoints must emanate from a "politically accountable governing body" in order to "pass constitutional muster," Holt at 19. However, DPS's proposed checkpoint program was issued by DPS, a state agency, and not the Texas Legislature. Further, the checkpoint program is rather vague and does not specify how or when the DPS could stop a driver to determine if the person possesses a valid drivers license.
I believe that since the Commission is not a "politically accountable governing body," DPS's institution of checkpoints is outside the Commission's authority. As elected officials are held directly accountable to voters through the elections process, and serve at the discretion of the electorate, the Legislature is the appropriate body to implement checkpoint programs. Conversely, the Commission is comprised of appointed commissioners who are not directly, politically accountable to voters. Therefore, the Commission is encroaching on the Legislature's law-making authority by attempting to implement drivers license checkpoints.
During the 80th Legislative Session, the Legislature made a conscious decision not to update the rules regarding the issuance of Texas Drivers Licenses pending the Department of Homeland Security's final rules on implementation of the Federal Real ID Act. Several factors, including the impact on fiscal resources and manpower considerations, influenced the Legislature's decision to not address the manner in which Texas Drivers Licenses are issued. Therefore, the Commission's administrative rule is not only inappropriate, but is also untimely. The upcoming 81st Legislative Session provides a timely and appropriate opportunity for the Legislature to choose to address this matter through the proper channels.
Further, while on the surface, it seems that the rule applies only to "undocumented" drivers in the Texas, it also impacts those legally here on a temporary basis, and who need to drive. For example, a student or professional worker lawfully residing in the United States for six months or less would not be allowed to obtain a Texas Drivers License. Additionally, all Texas drivers may be adversely impacted if the DPS checkpoints are upheld. Not only are the proposed checkpoints vague, but the undefined nature of these checkpoints could potentially unfairly burden Texas citizens who may be subject to random stops to screen for proof of residence.
In opposition to the administrative rule, I have joined Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) in sending a joint letter to the Attorney General, and have also supplemented the letter with additional comments pertaining to the issues of legislative authority and the potential constitutional implications of this new rule.
I hope that these issues will be brought before the legislature in the upcoming legislative session, for a full and open debate. We must uphold the democratic process, which is the foundation of our nation. I will keep you informed of the progress on this important matter as developments occur.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR VAN DE PUTTE
700 N. St. Mary's St. #1725
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 733-6605 - fax