The Senate Committee on Border Security held back-to-back hearings on April 4 and April 5 to review border security appropriations and their directed purpose. The committee, led by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), took testimony from witnesses representing the 13 agencies that have received funding through Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
Since Operation Lone Star began a little over a year ago, the Legislature has appropriated almost $3 billion for border security over the next two years. Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) in the 87th regular session appropriated $1.05 billion for border security and House Bill 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) in the second called session augmented those funds with an additional $1.88 billion. Legislators are now wanting to know how much bang they’re getting for their buck.
On April 4, the committee heard testimony from the Office of the Governor, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. On April 5, the committee invited testimony from the Texas Military Department, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Court Administration, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Department of State Health Services.
Sarah Hicks, director of budget and policy for the Office of the Governor, and Aimee Snoddy, executive director of the Governor’s Public Safety Office, testified about the money that has been spent from appropriations and from grants and where the money has gone.
Birdwell began by asking Hicks about the funds that have been spent building and maintaining the border wall. He asked about the distinction between “permanent” and “temporary” fencing and where the temporary fencing was being installed. Hicks stated that part of making sure the state’s criminal trespass laws are enforceable means installing fencing and signage indicating that the land is private property. She said that placement of temporary fencing is being driven by one of the purposes of Operation Lone Star — to protect landowners.
“Where are the counties in which those charges will be prosecuted? … Where will the landowners be willing to press charges?” These are the questions Hicks said are driving the decisions about fencing locations. Birdwell interrupted Hicks to add, “Where success will be reinforced.”
Birdwell moved on from the border wall discussion to ask the Governor’s staff to give the audience a “flavor” of what the local law enforcement grants are and what they encompass. Aside from $100 million appropriated in HB 9, grant spending has been “normal,” more or less, Hicks said. Snoddy laid out the different types of local grants and the four major categories under which they fall: law enforcement, court administration, jail operations and human remains processing.
The Governor’s Public Safety Office provided an accounting of border security grant programs and an overview of local grants during the hearing. Find it here.
Of the 93 local grant applications, 65 have been funded. Snoddy said that the eligibility requirements for this particular pot of money are that the applicant must be in a disaster-declared county and that the county attorney must have provided a letter of support stating that the county will participate in Operation Lone Star. She said that one grant-funded county, Galveston County, is not along the border but is sending people to the border to help, and thus qualifies.
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