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DPS Changes Security Policy at Governor's Mansion

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Federal and state elected officials are now exempted from the background checks required of visitors to the Governor’s Mansion, the Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

Several members of the Texas Legislature had complained last week after learning they were required to undergo background checks before being allowed to enter the Governor’s Mansion for a reception hosted by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. Angry legislators had asked DPS officials why the vetting they go through by Capitol security wasn’t sufficient for access to the Governor’s residence.

“We did review the policy,” Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told the House Appropriations Committee at a hearing on the issue. “The policy’s stupid and we changed it. That’s the bottom line. Questions?”

For about a decade, DPS has required everyone except Gov. Rick Perry and his wife Anita to undergo background checks each time they visit the Governor’s Mansion. At least three House members — State Reps. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas; Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin; andHaroldDutton, D-Houston — did not attend last week’s reception at the Governor’s Mansion in protest over the background check policy. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said he only endured the background check because he was hosting the event.

DPS officials met with members of the Governor’s staff last week following a House Appropriations Committee hearing where lawmakers questioned DPS officials about the policy.

“I told them that there’s not a member of the Legislature that doesn’t think their backgrounds are already checked, not only by the press, but voters and DPS,” Ken Armbrister, director of legislative affairs for the governor, said Tuesday. “It did appear, why are we doing this over and over again?”

Armbrister said the security procedures at the Mansion were given renewed focus after a 2008 arson fire but that visiting legislators are not viewed as a security threat.

A DPS official emailed members of the Texas Legislature Monday to inform them of the policy change, which applies to state and congressional elected officials while they are serving in office.

“Federal and state elected officials will no longer go through a vetting process,” McCraw said after Tuesday's hearing. “The vetting process they went through was to be elected.”

Turner and House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, thanked DPS officials for responding quickly to lawmakers' complaints.

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