Texas Candidate Calls for Greater Privacy Protections

By CHRIS TOMLINSON | November 14, 2013

Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott said Tuesday he supports making it legal to openly carry handguns in public and wants to place stricter limits on state agencies selling personal information from public records.

The Texas attorney general promised that if elected he also would support allowing guns on college campuses. Texas would become the fifth state to make a person’s DNA information their personal property under legislation Abbott said he supported during a policy speech to a political rally in Corpus Christi.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles sells its drivers’ license database to insurance companies, and the Department of State Health Services sells information on hospital visits for research purposes. Abbott said the government should not profit from such databases, either making it available for free or not at all.

“It is time to draw a bright line around your personal privacy and your private information,” Abbott said in prepared remarks. “This is your information. It should be given away or sold only with your express approval. I will champion privacy protections that prevent the sale of your personal information unless you expressly agree to it.”

The Legislature would have to approve all of his initiatives before they could become law. His positions reflect the priorities of his conservative base and takes advantage of recent revelations about surveillance programs at the National Security Agency.

While Abbott called for a public debate over devices such as red light cameras, he said elected officials needed to reveal more about themselves and their campaigns. Texas places no limits on campaign donations and the state ethics laws are among the less stringent in the country.

“I’m proposing that all state elected officials be required to disclose more about their sources of income and to disclose any contracts they, or their family members, have with state agencies or local government bodies,” he said. “We also need to eliminate loopholes that allow legislators to vote on legislation in which they may financially benefit.”

Abbott is laying out his policy positions in speeches across the state. His main opponents in the March primary are Tom Pauken and Lisa Fritsch. Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis is the only Democrat to announce for governor.

Pauken said Abbott should look at his own fundraising, particularly after taking donations from individuals who have an interest in the state cancer-fighting fund that he oversees as attorney general, and from the legal community.

“There are plenty of issues where he’s been involved in as attorney general and he took millions form attorneys who had cases pending in his office,” Pauken said. “I find it disingenuous that he’s talking about ethics issues.”

Abbott also called for limiting legislators who are lawyers from making money from lawsuits referrals, as well as banning school districts from hiring lobbyists to represent them in Austin. In 2011 the Legislature cut per-student spending for the first time since World War II, and lawmakers failed to restore those cuts in 2013.

“Using your money to lobby for more of your money is a conflict of interest. It needs to stop,” he said. “School districts should directly represent the needs of their schools at the Legislature and not waste taxpayer resources on lobbyists.”

School districts have sued the state for failing to meet its constitutional duty to properly fund public schools.

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