Watchdog Nation Series on Texas Public Schools

Part 1: Watchdog’s 2017 Legislative Agenda – Insurance, privacy, electricity shopping, property tax reform

I love the Texas Legislature.

You don’t hear those words very often. But ever since I visited for the first time, in 1995, and watched then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock work his magic over everyone, I see the lege for the good it does. Who says that these days?

#txlege — and that’s actually the official hashtag — is a vehicle for change, for improvement. The Watchdog receives several thousand emails and letters each year from Texans who gripe about their biggest problems. It’s easy for me to detect patterns and point out which areas of consumer life need fixing.

What I don’t like is how hard it is to get our points across. The problem is the lobbyists, who swarm like fire ants. They are everywhere, on their phones, standing in the back of hearings, earning their fat salaries — many times more than a legislator makes. They have steakhouse expense accounts and big budgets for campaign donations. As you can imagine, lobbyists are incredibly charming.

lobbyists March 31 2015

Lobbyists and other interested parties attend committee meetings for bills in Austin. But most people who have opinions on pending matters don’t attend. They’re at work.(Dave Lieber/Staff)

To counter that, I have a Watchdog Nation strategy. It’s old-fashioned people power. You and me. We get in there and dust it up. As I did two years ago, today I reveal the top five Watchdog laws I’d like to see passed in 2017. We even have a logo.

logo 2

We’ll follow their progress and show you how to lobby lawmakers to protect your interests.

The plan

This is how we did it together two years ago. Three of our five suggested consumer fixes actually became law. We created a Watchdog Hall of Fame for lawmakers who picked up the baton and crossed the finish line. Let’s do it again.

If you want to get involved in any of these battles, send an email to me at watchdog@dallasnews.com and I’ll make sure you’re in the loop. Which lawmakers should you write to? Where is a bill stuck? Who are the heroes and villains?

Electricity reform

Battle No. 1: Deceptive electricity shopping must stop.

Who is going to stand up to the marketing deceptions that some electricity companies use to sign up customers? Because of these, many Texans overpay for electricity and don’t even know it.

After I showed how companies used phony 1-cent rates to beat search engines and come out first in search results, the state took action to stop that. But it’s only a start.

Public Utility Commission Chairman Donna Nelson said last year that some electricity companies “always find a way” around the PUC’s best efforts to keep the marketplace honest and transparent.

She said, in words that confirm my reporting over the past decade, “Whatever practice we put in place to try and end the confusion, then they find a way around that.”

I have suggested four points of improvement. I’m proud that The Dallas Morning News editorial board supports these points, as does the leading electricity consumer group Texas ROSE. More important, I have email addresses of several hundred of you who want to help.

The four points of what I’d call the “Retail Electricity Reform Act of 2017” include:

1) Compare apples to apples. Force every company to list offered rates, with the distribution charge included. (Many hide that.)
2) Ban deceptive language. Don’t let confusing teaser rates and technical language disguise the real cost of service. Regulate those tricky and often-lying door-to-door salesmen.

3) End minimum-usage deals. Making people pay more if they use less power doesn’t encourage conservation.

4) Warn copycat sites. Demand that companies using “power to choose” language on their websites (that’s the name of the state’s shopping site) announce they are not the state website.
Some electricity companies use keywords “power to choose” because that’s also the name of the state-sponsored site.
Some electricity companies use keywords “power to choose” because that’s also the name of the state-sponsored site.

Property taxes

Battle No. 2: Make the property tax system fair.

I get that #txlege won’t pass an income tax. OK, but our biggest government money grab could at least be set up so it’s based on fairness, rather than whim. Because sale prices are kept secret, tax bills, I believe, are based on guesswork, more than science.

I showed last year how local governments pretend they aren’t raising taxes even if they are. I also showed what an unfair advantage I had in 2016 when I hired the state’s best known tax protest company and shaved my tax bill down. My neighbors didn’t. Sorry for them, but is that fair?

Insurance protection

Battle No. 3: Don’t let insurance companies strip us of our rights to protect our family.
Insurance companies are crying that they need help – even though they’ve been making huge profits. I call it an insurance war against consumers.

We must make sure #txlege doesn’t allow companies to block our right to sue. That’s the battlefield. Sometime this session, their attack bill on our legal rights will emerge. The Watchdog will need your help to call it out and knock it down.

Personal privacy

Battle No. 4: Taking all 10 fingerprints for a driver’s license is unnecessary.

The Watchdog fears that Texas Department of Public Safety will try to expand the one-thumbprint rule into 10 fingerprints required for a driver’s license. Otherwise, how will everyone’s full fingerprints make it to the federal fingerprint archives that homeland security buffs dream about at night?

Fortunately, we have our first bill of the year to support. State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, already a charter member of The Watchdog Hall of Fame, has offered Senate Bill 281, which limits governments from collecting not only fingerprints but blood, skin and hair samples, DNA and body scans. This doesn’t affect police work. The bill bans giving up personal information in exchange for providing a government service, such as a driver’s license.

Watchdog Hall of Fame member and State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, introduced a personal privacy bill for the 2017 session.

Taylor’s “Protect Personal Identifiers Act” has little to do with stopping crime, finding terrorists or border security. This is designed to protect the rest of us law-abiding Texans from 1984-style government.

I see that I’ve run out of room. I saved the most important one for last. In my next column, part two, I’ll show you why we need a license system for roofers and general contractors.

Don’t forget. If you want to get involved, send an email to watchdog@dallasnews.com.

Onward.

You can’t afford to miss The Watchdog. Follow our latest reporting always at The Watchdog page.

Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun website: DaveLieber.org

Part 2: Watchdog: Attention state lawmakers – the case for a roofers/contractors license

The other week, I went to small claims court to watch a DeSoto business owner exact revenge on a roofer who relieved him of a $7,700 deposit but provided no roof. The roofer, Lucas Ray Currier, took the deposit money and disappeared.

This story makes me sick. The victim is Bong Huynh, a Vietnamese-American who worked to buy his first American home. After a hail storm, roofers swarmed his neighborhood. He doesn’t speak English, so after the roofer disappeared, a friend of his contacted me on his behalf. I suggested small claims court to get a judgment.

Bong did that. He arrived with a translator whose English wasn’t much better. Roofer Currier no-showed. Bong won. He may never see the money again. But here’s what matters: Roofer Currier can continue to do business in Texas. Who’s going to stop him?

Want to stop him and the hundreds of other unreliable roofers and general contractors who take advantage of storm victims? I have a plan. Pull up a chair.

Bong Huynh is one of many North Texas homeowners who say they were ripped off by disappearing roofers. This photo was taken in small claims court when he won his case.(Dave Lieber/Staff)
Bong Huynh is one of many North Texas homeowners who say they were ripped off by disappearing roofers. This photo was taken in small claims court when he won his case.
(Dave Lieber/Staff)

Help me

In my previous Watchdog report, I unveiled four of the five topics on The Watchdog’s 2017 legislative plan. Recapping, they are: reforming retail electricity shopping; protecting insurance customers’ rights; stopping DPS from taking fingerprints and other biometric information from law-abiding Texans; and fixing the unfair state property tax system.

Here’s the fifth and final one: a required license for roofers and general contractors. Not continuing education, and not even enforcement of violators. I am a pragmatist and realize that’s too much to ask of this legislature. All I want is a list kept that we can check before hiring.

If roofer Currier disappears and gets a judgment against him, his name is taken off the list. You, as a consumer, would know to check the license list. If a roofer isn’t on it, you go another way. That’s my dream. (By the way, I tried to contact Currier, but he didn’t respond.)

The plan

To battle obstacles, I’m calling on your help for old-fashioned people power. If you want to get involved as a citizen of Watchdog Nation in any of these battles, send an email to me at watchdog@dallasnews.com. I’ll make sure you’re in the loop. Which lawmakers should you write to? Where is a bill stuck? Who are the heroes and villains?

This is how we did it together two years ago when three of five bills we pushed turned into law. I created a Watchdog Hall of Fame to honor legislators that did this great work. This year, we have our own logo.

<br>

Why roofers?

After the Garland-Rowlett-Sunnyvale tornado attack in December 2015, my colleague Marina Trahan Martinez and I easily found roofers violating rules and state laws. They didn’t care. Then the letters from frustrated customers began piling up. A sampling:

A woman complains the roofer put in vents upside down so water comes into her house. The roofer won’t help.

Another woman tells me her contractor took a down payment, completed one-third of the work, shut down his cell phone and was never heard from again.

A man shows me evidence of 12 leaks in his roof since it was installed in 2014.

Another man lays out the story of how his roofer also refuses to honor the warranty and repair shoddy work.

Yet another man sends me proof of an incomplete roof job. He says he lost $10,000 to a disappearing roofer.

A married couple tells me that after a hailstorm they gave $5,000 for roof and window repairs. “They no longer answer their phone and have not contacted us in two months.”

A man lost $5,000. “They made up excuse after excuse about why they couldn’t deliver my roofing materials.”

Call center con men

How do these roofing outlaws get jobs? Through word of mouth, through door knocking and the latest annoyance, through call centers that violate Do Not Call lists.

I get these calls, too. They are liars. They tell me they represent a roofing company in the city in which I live. No such company exists. They tell me they are doing my neighbor’s roofs. They’re not. I previously showed how they use fake Caller ID numbers to make it appear they’re local, when they’re not.

Neighbors are tougher

All our surrounding states require licensing or registration for workers who do major work on homes and businesses. Not Texas.

The Watchdog is asking for a simple list, one that we can check before we go out and spend thousands of dollars in one of the most crooked businesses in the great state of Texas.

Enough is enough.

Join me. Write to me at watchdog@dallasnews.com

Read Part One and learn about The Watchdog’s other issues for the 2017 Legislature.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

Check out The Watchdog Mondays on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. talking about matters important to you.

What Texans are telling The Watchdog

“Your goal is a lofty one and may have challenges in this conservative state. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give it a good try.” — Robert Curry

“During the time I was a general contractor, there were a number of companies that used the title ‘general contractor’ who were operating out of their pickup trucks, and most had no insurance.” — Bob Travis

“I am an insurance fraud investigator. When a catastrophic event happens, I hear lots of stories about the dishonesty of what I call migrant roofers/contractors.” — Chris Javier

“We should license them like we do plumbers and electrical contractors. It is not a perfect solution, but it is a step in a good direction.” — Bill Lynch

“Unfortunately, those phony contractors flood any market, rarely have an office even in their home state, have no insurance, no employees and no ethics.” — Nelson R. Braddy Jr.

It is absolutely crazy that homeowners have virtually no legal protection against unscrupulous roofers even though the roofers can get a lien placed against the property involved if the homeowner refuses to pay for poor work. — Stephen Lunsford

Meet the charter members of The Watchdog Hall of Fame

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Sen. Watson fought for insurance protections for Texas consumers.</span></p>

Sen. Watson fought for insurance protections for Texas consumers.

<p></p><p></p><p><span style="background-color: transparent; font-size: 1em;">Rep. Laubenberg proved herself to be one of the state's top privacy advocates</span></p><p></p><p></p>

Rep. Laubenberg proved herself to be one of the state’s top privacy advocates

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Rep. Capriglione submitted a bill two years ago to oversee roofers in Texas. It died. But he tried. He also paved a path for no-fingerprinting privacy protections.</span></p><p></p>

Rep. Capriglione submitted a bill two years ago to oversee roofers in Texas. It died. But he tried. He also paved a path for no-fingerprinting privacy protections.

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Rep. Turner was the number-one advocate for a fair and transparent electricity system. But he's gone from Austin. He's the new mayor of Houston. Who will take his place?</span></p><p></p>

Rep. Turner was the number-one advocate for a fair and transparent electricity system. But he’s gone from Austin. He’s the new mayor of Houston. Who will take his place?

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Sen. Schwertner led the fight against businesses that improperly added a surcharge when paying with a plastic card. He was also key in fighting fingerprints being taken of all state drivers.</span></p><p></p>

Sen. Schwertner led the fight against businesses that improperly added a surcharge when paying with a plastic card. He was also key in fighting fingerprints being taken of all state drivers.

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Sen. Taylor worked on stopping Texas DPS from collecting fingerprints of all Texas drivers.</span></p>

Sen. Taylor worked on stopping Texas DPS from collecting fingerprints of all Texas drivers.

More roofing coverage from The Watchdog

Lon Smith Roofing loses suit over contract’s legality

Catching a roofer who made promises he wouldn’t keep

An indictment for him, and a turning point for me

Use Watchdog’s tips to hire roofers and contractors who are on the level

Who’s behind illegal phone calls to storm victims?

You can’t afford to miss The Watchdog. Follow our latest reporting always at The Watchdog page.

Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun website: DaveLieber.org

Dear Watchdog Nation: A look back at the trouble we caused in 2016

Dear Citizens of Watchdog Nation,

You know those annoying holiday letters people send bragging about exotic vacations, their children’s middle school exploits and the sad death of their cat?

My partner Marina Trahan Martinez and I can’t resist. Welcome to The Watchdog family holiday letter, in which we lovingly look back and reflect on one of our life missions: Who’d we tick off in 2016?

Steep price to pay

Start with our definition of happy news. Remember that Denton auto mechanic, Jeff Fleming, who accepted $3,700 from a single mom but for 19 months didn’t fix her car? After our report, an anonymous donor sold the mom a car for $1. Then Denton attorney Curtis M. Loveless volunteered to take the mother’s case to court. Fleming was a no-show. A judge ordered Fleming to pay — sit down for this — $92,000.

Jeff Fleming looks at Toni Brown's Ford Focus, which he kept for a year and a half even though she paid him thousands of dollars. The Denton auto shop owner ended up losing a $92,000 judgment in the case when he failed to show up for court.
Jeff Fleming looks at Toni Brown’s Ford Focus, which he kept for a year and a half even though she paid him thousands of dollars. The Denton auto shop owner ended up losing a $92,000 judgment in the case when he failed to show up for court.

Obvious flop

We don’t celebrate anyone’s marriage breakup, but we weren’t surprised when it was announced that Tarek and Christina El Moussa of HGTV’s Flip or Flop had split. Months back, we showed how the couple had already split from an ethical life when they lent their name to second-rate, get-rich-quick seminars taking advantage of their TV fans. They responded with a YouTube video to me that was as flat as their show.

After we revealed that local investment radio show host James E. Poe was stripped of his financial adviser registration by state regulators yet still hosting a business radio show, he finally was pulled off the air.

Texas Farm Bureau tried to strip their insurance customers of their rights to sue in return for a crummy discount. We shared. The company withdrew its proposal.

Denton County Courthouse leaders are trying to pull a fast one by refusing to order an investigation of the worst Election Day voting mayhem in memory. After we organized a letter-writing protest by taxpayers to county officials, County Judge Mary Horn changed her mind and asked the Texas secretary of state to investigate. Only that office doesn’t do investigations.

We keep warning about Carrollton-based Garage Door Services, a  garage door repair company that goes by so many names it’s hard to avoid them when searching by internet. They keep popping up.

One clue: If their office sounds like a call center, it’s probably them. Prepare to overpay or, even better, find an ethical mom-and-pop company.

School business

We shined light into darker corners of the Texas public school system. How? Showing how Frisco ISD’s lavish spending on administrators’ quarters was an ugly contrast with its plea for voter approval to raise taxes. The measure lost.

Frisco ISD's Administration Building on Ohio Drive. Voters shut down a tax increase in 2016.(Kye R. Lee/The Dallas Morning News)
Frisco ISD’s Administration Building on Ohio Drive. Voters shut down a tax increase in 2016.
(Kye R. Lee/The Dallas Morning News)

Sidney ISD in Central Texas didn’t hold an election for an entire decade. Board members just stayed on. The district was caught and punished by state regulators. But the matter was never covered for Sidney residents in their local press until we brought it to light.

Keeping on it, we showed how a state senator accused the Texas Association of School Boards of brainwashing school board members to put their own adult interests ahead of the children’s, how a former FBI agent found examples of corruption in the state’s worst districts, and how superintendents use marketing and advertising techniques to crush criticsof their political machines.

Don B. Southerland Jr. is a retired FBI agent and current forensics accounting investigator. After spending the last four years investigating Texas public school districts, he comes out and tells The Watchdog about the incompetence and corruption he has uncovered in several districts.<p>(Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)</p>
Don B. Southerland Jr. is a retired FBI agent and current forensics accounting investigator. After spending the last four years investigating Texas public school districts, he comes out and tells The Watchdog about the incompetence and corruption he has uncovered in several districts.

(Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)

Dogged determination

The most fascinating person we met in 2016 was Malia Litman of Dallas. She spent $100,000 in legal fees to expose a culture of corruption in the U.S. Secret Service. She filed 89 Freedom of Information Acts and discovered all manner of cover-ups and shenanigans. A judge ruled she had to pay the legal fees even though the government caused delays. After we told her story, the judge changed his mind and the feds paid up.

Malia Litman in her North Dallas home in July. She waged a lonely and expensive battle for public records kept by the U.S. Secret Service. She won in the end.
Malia Litman in her North Dallas home in July. She waged a lonely and expensive battle for public records kept by the U.S. Secret Service. She won in the end.

Runner-up for most fascinating: the Great Man himself, Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman/CEO/president/grand poobah. He invited The Watchdog to our “Chicken Salad Summit” luncheon. He wanted to show me how wrong I was when I wrote — in launching my #shameATT campaign— that he didn’t care about customer service.

In his office, I asked him, “How does it feel to fail?” I presented him with a red binder filled with a torrent of AT&T complaints, typical of what I’ve received for a decade.

“Make it stop,” I pleaded to the man now trying to buy Time Warner and rule the world. (I intend to revisit this on the anniversary of our summit next March.)

Watchdog Dave Lieber and AT&amp;T president and CEO Randall Stephenson in Stephenson's office talking about AT&amp;T's customer service. Stephenson is now trying to buy Time Warner.
Watchdog Dave Lieber and AT&T president and CEO Randall Stephenson in Stephenson’s office talking about AT&T’s customer service. Stephenson is now trying to buy Time Warner.

Marina and I were also quite stunned when Texas Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Donna Nelson followed up within days of our suggestion to clear out scammy (and false) 1-cent per kilowatt hour rate electricity promos. The deceptive prices showed on the front page of search results on the state’s all-important electricity shopping site, powertochoose.org. At least that was fixed. More to come on other problems.

Fail

A previous newspaper publisher of mine, Richard L. Connor, always said we needed to fail at something big at least once every year. Otherwise if you don’t try, you won’t ever succeed.

Those words came true with my satirical #WatchdogForPresident campaignwhich tried to highlight governments’ weak law enforcement against the hordes of scammers operating worldwide. I abandoned the campaign in June. I’m left with a box of unused campaign buttons. What I learned: Nobody was in the mood to laugh about the 2016 presidential race. #fail.

Our campaign to get Texans to protest their property taxes attracted new followers. Even more so, our other campaigns — now gearing up to push for pro-consumer laws in the 2017 Legislature — attracted members who email their support to watchdog@dallasnews.com.

We’re looking for a roofers/contractors license, insurance protections, privacy laws, electricity shopping reforms and property tax relief. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead. We’ll need you.

Best day of the year: our Tornado Town Hall in mid-January at the Plaza Theatre in Garland. We showed area residents how to hire legitimate contractors and not get fooled. I love the cheat sheet to hire the right people we shared.

Oh, and by the way, Dave’s cat died this year, but Marina’s family got a new cat, so we’re kinda even.

Happy New Year from The Watchdog Desk.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to everything in this report. Our editor is Mede Nix.

Check out The Watchdog Mondays on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. talking about matters important to you.

The Watchdog Desk at DallasNews.com consists of Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez. Our editor is Mede Nix.
The Watchdog Desk at DallasNews.com consists of Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez. Our editor is Mede Nix.

TOP 10 WATCHDOG HEADLINES

These Watchdog columns were read the most in 2016.

1.      Watchdog gets duped when HGTV’s Flip or Flop stars Tarek and Christina disappoint

2.      HGTV’s Flip or Flop hosts risk popularity with high-pressure investment seminars

3.      Watchdog: Dallas woman discovers new Secret Service sex scandals through public information requests

4.      Watchdog: How to stop annoying robocalls, scammers and Do Not Call violators

5.      What happened when our watchdog gave AT&T’s CEO a binder full of customer complaints

6.      Watchdog: Crying poverty from inside Frisco ISD’s Grand Palace

7.      How a Denton auto mechanic took a single mom’s money and held her car hostage for 19 months

8.       How to protest your property taxes in Texas

9.      Watchdog: When will AT&T get the picture?

10.  Watchdog: Think car inspections are stupid? Changes may be coming

Source: Parse.ly

Dave Lieber's manifesto for WatchdogNation.com

You can’t afford to miss The Watchdog. Follow our latest reporting always at The Watchdog page.

Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun website: DaveLieber.org

In a symbolic campaign, our guy runs for – whaa? – president!

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber is taking a stand on behalf of his readers’ number one pet peeve.

His stand is a symbolic run for the U.S. presidency, which he announced Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 in his Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News. See it here.

The pet peeve? His readers — citizens of Watchdog Nation, he calls them — are quite surprised when they have phone numbers, email addresses, sometimes even bank account numbers for scammers who try to hurt them. Yet the authorities don’t seem to care.

Dave proposes creating a “junior FBI squad” that would work both here and overseas to take out the thousands of illegal operations that call, mail and email Americans every day with duplicitous schemes.

How can you help? Enjoy the debut campaign video here. And share the link – https://youtu.be/8iKqghi1nzg – with you friends. Let’s have fun.

Read our original story about leaks on Twitter before the official campaign announcement here.

Dave-Lieber-watchdog-for-president-campaign-materials

 

Read Dave Lieber’s Watchdog for President announcement speech here.

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Deja vu: Texas DPS vows to try again to take full fingerprints of innocent Texans

KRLD-AM news radio’s Mitch Carr interviews Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber on the surprise news that Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw vows once again to try in 2017 to get all Texas drivers to give full fingerprints for a driver’s license.

Read Tom Benning’s full story www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/h…gerprinting.ece

Here’s the audio interview:


dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

Watchdog Nation exposes ‘the surveillance state of Texas’

The surveillance state of Texas.

That’s what Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber calls the current state of affairs in the Lone Star State.

Watchdog Nation is one of the leading voices in favor of privacy rights for Texans. We exposed the Texas Department of Public Safety’s unauthorized collection of full fingerprints of every driver in the state of Texas. We led the fight to stop the practice. And thanks to House Bill 1888, the practice is ending.

We also revealed for the first time the sweetheart, no-bid contract that Gov. Rick Perry’s government (through DPS) secured with a firm staffed by retired FBI agents to set up a system, operated by retired CIA agents, that was supposed to prevent terrorism. TrapWire is a “surveillance detection system” designed to find terrorists in pre-planning stages.

And we showed how DPS claimed 44 arrests were made because of the expensive TrapWire program, but actually there are none. Unfortunately for DPS, this claim was made in a warning email to state lawmakers on the eve of a Watchdog report. DPS warned legislators that The Watchdog’s report on TrapWire could be inaccurate. Turns out it was DPS who made the error.

Now, collected in one place, see the actual stories from Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez in which they show piece by piece the surveillance state of Texas.

Catch up here. Read all of our reports, which won top prizes in 2015 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Houston Press Club and National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The latest:

Watchdog: Turns out DPS’ claimed arrests didn’t happen

The inaccurate report about its TrapWire super-surveillance fits a pattern of stonewalling and deception at the state law enforcement agency.

Rick-Perry-surveillance-state-of-Texas

Former Gov. Rick Perry (left) and the man he appointed, “Colonel” Steve McCraw, DPS Director

Watchdog: Did your Texas legislator make the hall of fame?

The Watchdog asked for your help to push state lawmakers into voting up or down on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s collection of full fingerprints from all Texas drivers. Find out which legislators stopped this invasion of privacy of innocent people in the 2015 Legislature.

Watchdog Extra: Texas lawmakers end full fingerprinting of driver’s license applicants

Some Texas lawmakers were angry when the Texas Department of Public Safety started taking full fingerprints from applicants for driver’s licenses and state ID cards.

tx dps logo

Watchdog: Does Texas DPS share your driver’s license pic with the FBI?

Internal Texas DPS emails show agreement with feds to send driver’s license pics to the FBI. DPS says don’t believe it.

Watchdog: Rather than answer hard questions, DPS fights the press

The Texas Department of Public Safety alerts state lawmakers to what it expects to be critical news reports hours before the news even comes out.

Watchdog: How Rick Perry set up a surveillance state of Texas

The former governor and Texas DPS worked with former FBI and CIA agents to set up a secretive statewide surveillance detection system.

Watchdog: Is DPS ‘surveillance detection’ just plain spying?

The agency works with companies that employ ex-CIA agents to conduct “surveillance detection,” not spying, officials say.

Watchdog extra: DPS stops collecting full sets of fingerprints from driver’s license applicants

The reason? “Concerns and questions” raised by “a number of legislators,” DPS said in a surprise announcement.

Watchdog: You and me. Let’s push legal fixes in 2015

The Watchdog suggests several new laws to protect Texans in the 2015 Legislature. With your help, we can succeed.

Watchdog: Texas DPS, here are the facts on fingerprinting

The Watchdog answers DPS Director Steve McCraw’s op-ed by challenging him on the back facts.

Watchdog: DPS whistleblower insists officials aren’t being candid

A whistleblower pokes holes in DPS’ arguments.

Watchdog: Lawmakers say they didn’t gives DPS OK to fingerprint

Texas state lawmakers are angry. They say they never approved DPS’ program to capture fingerprints of every Texas driver in the next decade.

Watchdog: Whistleblower blasts DPS for taking fingerprints

A whistleblower who worked for the DPS Fingerprint Bureau steps forward.

Watchdog: Driver’s license centers snatch your fingerprints

The first report that DPS quietly began taking full fingerprints of all driver’s license applicants. No public announcement was ever made until The Watchdog’s revelation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

What’s the biggest lie in the 2015 Texas Legislature?

Do you believe insurance companies will actually walk away from a billion dollars in profits if insurance lobbyists fail to get wicked Senate Bill 1628 passed? Dallas Morning News Watchdog Dave Lieber calls them out on this ridiculous claim the industry is using to promote this bill.

Read a news story about this bill: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20150420-texas-home-insurers-see-another-strong-year-but-still-seek-limits-on-lawsuits.ece

Read my opinion column: http://www.dallasnews.com/investigations/watchdog/20150409-watchdog-texas-insurance-lobbyists-have-a-plan-you-wont-like.ece

mr moneybags

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

Five Bills Designed to Make Texas Consumer-Friendly

Make shopping for electricity fairer for Texans. Force roofers to get a state license. Stop charging extra for people who pay with debit and credit cards. Verify that fingerprinting all Texans for driver’s licenses is legal. Protect auto insurance customers who ask questions about their policies.

These are the five dream bills offered up by Dallas Morning News Watchdog Dave Lieber in his recent two-part series. Read Part One and Part Two.

By far, his Retail Electricity Reform Act of 2015 is his top-priority. “I get more complaints from Texans about their electricity contracts than any other subject,” Lieber says. “I have placed the top ones into my dream bill. I’m seeking one or more lawmakers willing to take on the big powerful interests and clean up all the loopholes. So far, no legislator has taken the big step. But I’m hoping for it.”

Lieber wants to ban minimum usage fees, regulate unregulated fees and make comparison shopping easier by forcing all companies to advertise the full price including the delivery charge.

electricity screen shot

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber discusses his legislative proposal on NBC5. Watch here:

Read about the four minor bills here.

Read about the major electricity bill here.

Follow The Watchdog at www.dallasnews.com/watchdog and see the progress of this year’s campaign.

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Top 10 Consumer Tips for 2015

This video shows the best tips for 2015 from Dallas Morning News Watchdogs Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez.

How did we figure this out?

Based on our mail and the most common problems we see. If you hit most of these correctly, you’ll lessen your chances for a hassle-free ’15.

Happy New Year from The Watchdog Desk at The Dallas Morning News.

Watch Dave live on NBC5.

Read the full column this is based on here.

For desktop and laptop viewers, here’s the information in a cartoon we made.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:

Personal: YankeeCowboy.com

Hipster site: DaveLieber.org