AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tightened security at the Texas governor's mansion remains in place. Just not the "stupid" kind.
Conceding that elected officials are unlikely to hurl Molotov cocktails into the newly reopened and luxuriant home of the Texas first family, state security officials Tuesday said they are ending a contentious policy that required lawmakers to submit to background checks before every trip inside.
"The policy is stupid, and we changed it," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The reversal comes less than a week after Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Turner complained to McCraw about the policy during a public hearing. Turner hosted a meeting of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus at the mansion and said state troopers held up him and other lawmakers while running background checks, which included searches for warrants.
Some lawmakers refused to enter the mansion in protest. McCraw last week continued to defend the security measure under questioning from Turner, saying that everyone had to consent to the background checks.
A day after that hearing, McCraw met with the governor's office. The policy was then eliminated.
A fire in 2008 nearly destroyed the 156-year-old mansion, and about $25 million was spent on renovations and rebuilding. Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, moved back into the mansion in July.
The Perrys had temporarily moved out of the home for renovations at the time of the blaze, and no one was injured. Surveillance video showed someone throwing a lit item, which authorities believe was a Molotov cocktail, at the front of the stately mansion. The building then ignited.
"Sometimes you adopt measures to ensure that what happened with the arson will never happen again," Ken Armbrister, Perry's director of legislative affairs, told lawmakers Tuesday. "Not that I've seen any of you with lighters or Molotov cocktails."
Only current elected state lawmakers and members of Congress are exempt from the background checks. McCraw said the screening policy will still apply to everyone else.
Turner thanked McCraw and Armbrister for their "prompt response" at a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee. Armbister acknowledged to the panel that best intentions can sometimes go too far.
He then encouraged lawmakers to tell McCraw about any other concerns they have about new security measures at the mansion.
"The governor did shoot a coyote," Armbister said. "He can protect himself most of the time."
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