After much wrangling over two different versions of the bill and various amendments to the language in committee, it looks like a reasonably effective version of the TSA anti-groping bill is poised to pass the Texas legislature and move on for the Governor’s signature on Wednesday. The most significant change is a downgrading of the level of proof required for a legitimate search from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion” but the basic objective of the bill – to hold TSA employees accountable for their actions – remains intact.
At this point it would still be helpful to make more calls and send more emails to Texas House members. Their have the final say on the bill in a concluding floor vote sometime Wednesday. You can use this handy tool to send an email, or call your representative directly by looking them up on the House website. If you don’t live in Texas just pick one and call to let them know they’re doing this for all of us.
Our friends at StopAustinScanners.org offer a full report on the steps the bill has gone through and its current status:
This evening, Texas Senate Bill 29 (SB 29), which proposes state prosecution and punishment for the offense of official oppression by the intrusive touching–(a euphemism for TSA groping)–of persons seeking access to public buildings and transportation and defines criminal penalties for such offenses, was moved out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee without amendment by a vote of 7 ayes, 1 nay, 1 not present, with no abstentions. This puts SB 29 on track for final passage on the House floor tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29th.
Both SB 29 and House Bill 41 (HB 41) were passed in their respective chambers yesterday, although HB 41 was subject to multiple amendments that alarmed true proponents of the legislation. Upon passage in the House, Robert Kepple, Executive Director, of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, recommended abandoning HB 41 for the judicial problems the amendments introduced.
The principal concerns introduced by the amendments to HB 41 were:
1) lowering the standard by which a pat-down might be permitted from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion”,
2) providing a defense if the “actor” (TSA agent) was performing the search pursuant to an explicit grant of federal statutory authority, which is the case for all TSA agents and renders the legislation effectively meaningless,
3) effectively giving the U.S. Supreme Court ultimate authority in defining the propriety of a search.
Mr. Kepple had testified earlier in the day before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee in favor of amending a substituted version of SB 29 to eliminate vagueness and firmly structure the legislation as a matter of Texas state law, and make it enforceable to the maximum extent that is “consistent with federal constitutional requirements”. This was proposed to correct bad language that was snuck into a version of SB 29 substituted in committee by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.
The amendments suggested by Mr. Kepple were later adopted in the Senate version, and are believed to legally restrict TSA agents from offensive touching in the same manner that FBI agents and federal Marshalls are now restricted. It is believed this modification will provide the public a greater measure of protection, and the State of Texas greater standing in future judicial proceedings.
The language that provided the TSA wider lattitude when defending itself from criminal penalties when performing unlawful searches by lowering the standard from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion” is included in SB 29. Another perceived shortcoming introduced into the bill by amendment allowed grounds for a TSA search to be an “unknown, prohibited or unlawful object”.
While the bill’s proponents strongly objected to this language, wanting the phrase “unknown object” to be stricken, there was general consensus that it would better serve the public good to have slightly flawed statutory law that could be amended as the flaws became more widely known than to have no law at all.
We think the public can now reasonably expect the TSA to use the “unknown object” defense in its vigorous quest to discover all those diaper bombs carried by infants and cancer victims in their last days of life.
The passage of SB 29 in the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee effectively sidelines HB 41, its companion bill, from further consideration, which StopAustinScanners considers to be a major victory.
If you’re a real political action junkie you can watch the final vote live online tomorrow at the Texas House website.