“But is it Good Public Policy?” (Senate Bill 261 and its progeny)

On Monday of this week, I had lunch with a friend and colleague of mine, who’s name I shall not mention due to the nature of his work in the Texas Legislature, who responded to my disdain for Senate Bill 261 with the statement, "But is it Good Public Policy?"

I was stunned that he would say this and not simply agree that the proposed changes to DWI laws in Texas and to the eroding of civil rights as set out by both the federal and Texas constitutions were in jeopardy when such legislation is introduced.  The reason that this was surprising to me is that until he recently acquired a position in the Legislature as one of the Member’s assistants (title unclear), this guy was a criminal defense attorney.  He worked to get people out of jail.  He did what he could to keep them from going back to jail… and, he was very successful at his craft.

This person is now working in a job that he enjoys and experiencing a view of the law that he’s always wanted to pursue and until recently just did not have the opportunity.  And for that, I applaud my friend.  But, to have him turn his back on a statement that almost, if not all criminal defense attorneys would agree with regarding Senate Bill 261 and its progeny, was like a slap to the face. Had my friend and colleague betrayed me? Had he really switched sides (as I was accused when I left law enforcement to open my own law office)?  Of course he had not "betrayed" anyone, but it made me think, so….

I laughed it off and pondered the point for a few days before drafting this article–successfully managing not to say something that I would later regret.  And, I do not think that he intended to be derisive or to offend anyone at the table.  Honestly, I believe that he may not have known the extent that Senate Bill 261 strips people of their constitutional rights, so we discussed it briefly, and then the subject changed, without further ado.  However, I will not jump to the conclusion that the conversation was Much Ado about Nothing, to quote a little Shakespeare, as it inspired me to write this entry and again bring Senate Bill 261 to light.

My first post on Senate Bill 261 which labeled it as Frightening expounds on the issues I have with this piece of proposed legislation.  And, to spare my readers from repetition, I am merely going to provide the link to the article for your review.

So, is the question really "But is it Good Public Policy" in the Legislature or is it more about what lobbys control which votes and who can pay the most? Now I sound like a complete conspiracy theorist to make such an accusation, but is it really that far off point? There’s a lot of good public policy out there that never makes it out of  committee because of the cost associated with a program’s implementation, which, one could argue makes it bad public policy because of the financial drain it may have on the State’s resources… but does cost alone make something "bad public policy?"

To summarize, I suppose that the question my friend raised would not have nagged me as much had I thought he was serious and sincere in the question, "But is it Good Public Policy?" Instead, when he raised the question, he laughed, smiled really big and then the conversation went on. And no, he was not just "teasing me" about it because others at the table asked him about it and he replied in the same manner.

When I goaded him a little bit and we discussed it, the subject just changed.  I fully respect if someone really believes that something is "good public policy" and stands behind it, just as I am arguing that Senate Bill 261 is a really bad idea, but if someone is just arguing that it is a public policy issue simply because that is the job he’s taken on for the moment, then I am less appreciative because those sorts of changes in the law have lasting consequences and affect every person in Texas.

Thus, urge your Senator and State Representative to vote NO on Senate Bill 261, preventing it from ever seeing the light of day.