Texas DPS won’t review Memorial Day House scuffle that included gun threats

Lawmakers will return to the Texas Capitol in July.
Lawmakers will return to the Texas Capitol in July. atinsley@star-telegram.com

Texas law enforcers will not investigate the scuffle among House members that included threats of gun violence on the last day of the legislative session.

On Memorial Day, as activists opposing a tough new sanctuary cities law protested so loudly that they shut down work in the Texas House, a scuffle broke out among House members after state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Dallas, mentioned that he had called ICE, or immigration officers, on the protesters.

There was some yelling and a scuffle before the lawmakers were separated. Later, Rinaldi posted statements on Facebook and Twitter saying that his life was threatened by state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, after he “called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said, ‘I am illegal and here to stay.’ ”

“We are not investigating,” said Tom Vinger, press secretary at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The activists were protesting against SB4, a law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott that lets police inquire about a person’s immigration status during traffic stops. It also requires police chiefs and sheriffs, under threat of penalty, to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation.

Rinaldi did not respond to a Star-Telegram request for comment.

Nevarez deputy chief of staff Amy Rister said no charges have been filed. But she said the office is still receiving emails about the incident from people who live outside the district.

State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, has said he was standing with state Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, on the House floor watching the May 29 protest. Out of support, Romero said he had his arm raised and was chanting with the crowd: “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, SB4 has got to go,” when Rinaldi came up and told the two he had called ICE.

During the lawmakers’ confrontation, Romero said that at one point he was “nose to nose” with Rinaldi. But he said he walked away after another lawmaker whispered in his ear: “Matt is not worth it.”

He said he is still getting emails from critics.

Some, he said, are from “people who are telling me I have a price to pay,” Romero said. “There’s a lot of folks who feel I was wrong for supporting people in the crowd.”

“I didn’t read a lot” of the emails, he said. “The DPS did tell me to take it seriously and if I got anything dangerous to report it to them.”

Lawmakers plan to head back to the Capitol on July 18 for a special session. The governor has called on them to address 19 issues in 30 days — after a plan to reauthorize state agencies such as the Texas Medical Board that would otherwise shut down has passed the Senate.

Increasing digital defense

Two measures geared to protect the state from cyberattacks by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, were recently signed into law.

One proposal, House Bill 8 — the Texas Cybersecurity Act — calls for an audit of Texas systems, training on how to respond to risks and attacks, a review of state digital data storage and a state response plan that can be used in the event of a cyberattack to be created no later than Sept. 1, 2018. Part of the bill also calls for a study of cyberattacks on election infrastructure, including looking at vulnerabilities and risks regarding county voting machines and the lists of registered voters. It also seeks information on any attempted cyberattack against county voting systems and any recommendations to protect election machines and lists of registered voters.

The second measure, HB 9 — the Texas Cybercrime Act — makes it a third-degree felony if someone “intentionally interrupts or suspends access to a computer system” or network, unless the person is working on behalf of law enforcement. It also makes it a misdemeanor for someone to alter data transmitting between two computers in a network or system or introduce malware or ransomware — software that gives people access to a computer system and data without permission or requires users to pay to regain access to their data or information — on a computer, network or system.

“Texas is fortunate to have leaders who recognize that cybersecurity reform is necessary preventative maintenance for the state and economy,” said Justin Yancy, president of the Texas Business Leadership Council. “This bipartisan effort allows for us to work proactively in better securing Texans’ private data, train public employees how to identify a breach faster, and upgrade or dispose of old, less-secure systems.”

Both laws go into effect Sept. 1.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley