Texas Legislature Takes on the TSA—Round 2.

In 2007, full-body scanners were introduced in airports across the country.  The theory was that the scanners would eliminate the need for personnel to perform pat-downs, thus speeding up airport security lines.  However, the technology produced a lifelike silhouette of passengers’ bodies that created an outrage from many passengers.  Out of fear that images would be stored, and fear that the machines are not safe, many passengers opted for the invasive pat-down.  Following the new pat-down option, stories of inappropriate airport pat-down procedures circulated in the news.

In 2011, Representative David Simpson sought to address the pat-down procedures and introduced H.B. 41. H.B. 41 would criminalize excessive touching by TSA agents during routine security checks at the airport.  Rep. Simpson believed the bill would “stop the routine touching of people’s private parts for merely refusing to go through a scanner, because they don’t want to be irradiated, don’t want to be viewed naked.” Rep. Simpson represents a large number of people who feel that a trip to the airport often necessitates a steep invasion of privacy. Your bags are sifted through, your carry-on is disassembled and put through the scanner, and your belt, shoes, jewelry, underwire, coat, and sweater are all shed in the name of security.  Rep. Paul Workman commented on this, noting that he “got a call from one of my more elderly constituents last night who asked me to vote against this because the only time he gets groped is when he goes to the airport now.”

H.B. 41 passed the full House, but federal officials threatened to close all Texas airports if the Legislature passed the bill. Because the Legislature wanted to avoid making Texas a no-fly zone, the bill died.

The bill was reintroduced as H.B. 80 and considered by committee on April 10, 2013.  The 2011 version of the bill criminalized “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” touching someone inappropriately, and the 2013 version requires intentional touching without probable cause.  This heightens the standard for criminal conduct, making it more difficult for passengers claim that every pat-down included inappropriate touching.

H.B. 80 also makes it illegal to harass, delay, coerce, threaten, or intimidate anyone who does not consent to a security screening. The bill is silent on whether refusing to consent to screening gives officials the right to deny access to the boarding area.

Also notably different, the 2013 version includes a provision making it unlawful to remove a child under 18 years from the physical custody or control of the parent or guardian.

Fearful that federal officials would once again threaten to cancel flights to and from Texas, the committee invited TSA representatives to testify, but they declined. After the committee hearing on April 10, the bill was left pending.