Texas Capitol to get metal detectors

April 13, 2010 1:18:22 PM PDT
Despite the objection of Gov. Rick Perry, the State Preservation Board voted Tuesday to place metal detectors and X-ray machines at the public entrances to the Texas Capitol in the next two months as a deterrent to terrorism. Perry, who serves on the board, opposed the measure, saying he thinks the public can be protected without the machines and that they could create a logjam of people trying to get in. He compared it to long lines at airport security.

"The safety of our citizens is very important, but the other side ... the access of our Capitol is about to be substantially restricted," Perry said. "I think the public will be disappointed."

At the start of the meeting, the board recognized several state troopers who disarmed a man after he fired several shots outside the Capitol in January. Then they went behind closed doors for more than an hour to discuss the security plan put forth by the Department of Public Safety.

Once they returned, Perry cast the lone dissenting vote.

More surveillance cameras in the Capitol and on the grounds with a total cost of about $3 million were also included in the plan passed by the board, which includes Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and public member Charlotte Foster. Dewhurst called the metal detectors and X-ray machines necessary to help prevents acts of violence.

"I don't want it on my conscience that some innocent person visiting the Capitol got hurt by a nut," Dewhurst said.

The plan would have the public use the north side entrance, which includes a disabled-access entrance. Tour groups would be sent to the south side. The east and west entrances would be used by lawmakers, staff and other officials who would use an ID card.

Screening would be similar to airport security. Capitol visitors would walk through the metal detectors and place any bags on the X-ray machines.

"Times have change regrettably since 9-11. There are people out there around the world who want to do Americans harm. The state Capitol in Texas is the monument to the people in Texas," Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst said if entrance lines back up, such as during legislative sessions when thousands of people come to the Capitol every day, officials can use all four entrances to get the public into the building quickly.

"We don't want to see lines. We don't want to see people turned away. My objective is to protect people so there's no diminish of access to the state Capitol," Dewhurst said.

One concern is how to screen concealed handgun permit holders.

Permit holders are allowed to bring their weapons to the Capitol and state law keeps information about who holds a permit confidential. Dewhurst said he didn't want to make the Capitol a gun-free zone like schools and some businesses.

The Texas Rifle Association did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday.


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