Texas tries again to criminalize some TSA pat-downs

Update: Texas legislators failed to reconcile differences between the House of Representatives and Senate versions of the bill to restrict touchy-feely pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration agents, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The legislature needed to approve the bill by June 30, when its session ended.

Channeling political momentum generated by Gov. Rick Perry, Texas legislators are closing in on a revised law that would criminalize some Transportation Security Administration pat-downs of travelers who can’t or refuse to pass through scanners, writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Dave Montgomery.

The Texas House of Representatives and Senate each passed a bill June 27 that would ban invasive pat-downs, including searches in which TSA agents feel up travelers through their clothing, without reasonable suspicion, Montgomery writes. The penalty for such probing would be as much as one year in prison or $4,000 in fines.

In the words of Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, who received a pat-down recently, according to Forbes’ Kashmir Hill: “You’ve got to have a reason to go to third base.”

Of course, some might protest that Smitherman is exaggerating with his baseball euphemism and argue that it’s more like second base. But regardless whether TSA agents are hitting doubles or triples, Texas lawmakers are ready to call them out at the behest of their governor. Perry asked this special session of the Texas legislature to protect travelers from official oppression at public transportation facilities.

However, the bill is not a done deal. As GCN wrote in May, TSA threatened to shut down flights leaving from Texas if a similar bill, which agency officials deemed unconstitutional, passed. The latest version gives some leeway to TSA agents, who can argue that their pat-downs fit the scope of the Constitution or qualify as a response to reasonable suspicion of malfeasance, Montgomery writes.

Those concessions have ticked off plenty of Texans. Radio talk show host Alex Jones led a rally in Austin to protest what protesters consider to be a watered-down version of the bill, Montgomery writes. The Texas House must vote on the version that the Senate approved late June 27, and Perry needs to have a final bill on his desk to sign by the end of June 29, before the legislature session ends.

TSA maintains that few travelers go through pat-downs. And most of those pat-down recipients first set off a metal detector or refuse to go through a scanner. The agency’s website specifies that travelers who fail the metal detector or don’t want to pass through a scanner will be subject to a pat-down.

The agency recently amended its policy to discourage pat-downs of children, writes USA Today’s Gary Stoller. The change comes after a video from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport shows TSA agents giving a 6-year-old the full pat-down treatment after she moved before a full-body scanner could compete its scan. In response to the public outcry, TSA said agents should strive to repeat the scans as many times as possible to avoid pat-downs of young children, Stoller writes.

More anger toward TSA filled social networks when agents asked a 95-year-old cancer patient to remove her wet Depend diaper, CNN writes.

On the flip side of the privacy vs. security equation, there have not been any recent security incidents involving air travel. Would TSA face more public outrage if a security threat slipped through the cracks? Or do the means fail to justify the ends?

About the Author

Michael Protos is a web content editor with 1105 Government Information Group.


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