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"Texas lawmakers revive TSA anti-groping measure"
Monday, June 27, 2011
Texas lawmakers revive TSA anti-groping measure
By Dave Montgomery
The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram
AUSTIN - A Senate committee on Monday approved heavily revamped legislation
to ban intrusive airport pat-downs on Monday as supporters rushed to salvage
the beleaguered measure before the end of the Legislature's special session
With House Speaker Joe Straus denouncing the bill as a "public stunt," the
chief Senate sponsor of the bill incorporated changes that prompted some
supporters of the original bill to turn away from the measure. Supporters
planned amendments on the House floor designed to toughen the bill and
return it closer to the original form.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chief author of the Senate bill, acknowledged
that proponents are racing the clock to get the measure passed out of both
chambers of the Legislature before adjournment. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the
Senate's presiding officer, supports the legislation, but it faces a
towering obstacle in the House after Straus declared late last week that the
measure would not be brought to the floor in its current form.
The committee voted 5-2 to advance the bill to the Senate floor, with
Democrats Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Kirk Watson of Austin voting against
the measure. Davis said later that she believes Texans already have legal
remedies against abusive behavior by federal agents and expressed concerns
that the proposed law would "be entering into the domain of federal security
Patrick, introducing the reworked bill, said the legislation is needed to
force the federal Transportation Security Administration to alter policies
governing airport screening. The Houston lawmaker cited news reports over
the weekend about a 95-year-old woman being forced to remove her adult
diaper during a pat-down at an airport in northwest Florida.
The bill, as drafted, would expand the federal definition of "official
oppression" to prohibit federal employees from improperly touching a
person's private areas, even through clothing. Violations would constitute a
Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum
The revised version included changes recommended by the Texas Attorney
General's Office to help counter possible constitutional challenges. One key
change allows an agent to argue, as an element of his defense, that he
believed he was acting within the scope of the U.S. Constitution.
Another change would permit agents to conduct searches if they have
"reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing, a standard that critics said could
give screeners broad latitude authority to conduct pat-downs.
Don Hart, an Austin attorney who helped write the House version of the bill,
told the committee that the changes "make the bill worse than no bill."
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