6/24/2011 2:53 PM
(UPDATED at 5:47 pm to include a statement from Sen. Dan Patrick.)
It flew through the House with nary a word against it in the regular session.
But today Speaker Joe Straus called the anti-TSA-groping bill "ill-advised" and a "not well-researched" publicity stunt, after quickly gaveling in and out a five-minute floor session this morning.
The possible lack of quorum may have been the official reason that bill did not get a floor debate this morning (see footnote below). But behind the scenes there was a debate over the legality of Rep. David Simpson's (R-Longview) HB 41, which criminalizes the touching of certain body parts by Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) workers.
"I think the philospohy is right, I think it's the challengability in court that's the issue," said House Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi).
Hunter did not comment on why such a meeting of the minds did not occur during the regular session. HB 1937, HB 41's predecessor, passed without objection on the House floor May 13, before hitting a bump in the Senate on May 24.
Maybe this time Simpson's opponents were afraid the bill would actually become law, whereas in the regular session it seemed more of a longshot.
Straus said HB 41, as worded, would have made Texas the "laughingstock" of the country.
"So if he [Straus] is so concerned about the mockery, why didn't he stop it then [in May]?" Simpson said during an impromptu press conference this morning.
Hunter explained the impasse stemmed from discussions held over the last several days on the legal concept of "probable cause" vs. "reasonable suscipicion" for the reason travelers may be detained (and groped) at an airport checkpoint. The conclusion was that Simpson's bill needs to allow for "reasonable suspicion" for legal purposes.
(For the other side to this perennial debate over detention and searches of U.S. citizens, see this side-by-side list from TSATyranny.com, which supports Simpson's bill.)
"We visited with the Attorney General, and we visited with police and law enforcement groups, and I was in on several meetings -- my role was more toward the law side, to make sure you had a legal standing," Hunter, a civil attorney, said. "... The last couple of days, members and groups were meeting because one group had this 'probable cause' versus 'reasonable suspicion' concern.
Speaker Joe Straus said neither airline nor aviation transportation officials were not involved in the discussion.
"One of my suggestions," Hunter continued, "was that we needed to reorder [the offenses], as it didn't fit the order of other similar statutes."
Simpson said proposed changes were unacceptable to him.
"The Speaker asked me to remove the language that specifically described the private parts," Simpson said, "and I told him that would gut the bill."
Simpson didn't want to "lower the standard" to reasonable suspicion, he said, because "what's happening now is that when people don't want to be irradiated through a body scanner or don't want to be strip-searched, it's 'reasonable suspicion' and they [TSA] are groping people. I don't think that's right ... I don't think taking a summer vacation, or doing your business, going to and from, is like casing a joint ..."
Simpson clarified that his bill does not stop all pat-downs: just on genitalia and other sensitive areas.
He said while his bill retained much support throughout the week, a few Democrats left "because of some President Obama-bashing."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, earlier this week, said TSA's policies stem from "the Obama Administration."
"I don't think anyone is throwing bombs," Hunter said. "I think the real issue is this probable cause/reasonable suspicion deal. It was my understanding that David was going to propose one thing but leave it to the House."
Simpson said there still remains much support -- though he doubts if Gov. Rick Perry truly wants the bill passed.
"It's regrettable -- I was told the other day that unless you have the support of the Speaker, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Governor, nothing will come to a vote in this place," he said. "And that may be true. But if that's the case, why is there a Senate? Why is there a Texas House? And why are there 181 other members of the leadership of this state?"
Dewhurst, in a press statement this afternoon, said he would proceed with Sen. Dan Patrick's (R-Houston) version, SB 29, on Monday.
"Since the start of the Special Session, I've worked closely with the Attorney General's Office to address several issues that were raised when the bill first came up for a vote in the Texas Senate," Dewhurst said. "The Transportation and Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on Monday to pass the TSA bill out of committee, and I believe this is an important issue that deserves consideration by both the House and the Senate before we adjourn."
NOTE: Regarding quorum, the Speaker signed SB 4 in the presence of the House, which requires a quorum. But since a quorum is assumed unless challenged, there was technically a quorum this morning.
UPDATE: Patrick issued the following statement after the initial posting of this story:
"The TSA anti-groping bill is important legislation that sends an important message to the federal government.This is evidenced by that fact that it has more than 100 coauthors in the House and enough votes to pass in the Senate. Even before passage, this legislation has already yielded results in that the TSA recently changed their pat down policies on children. I am greatly disappointed that negotiations on this bill have broken down so badly in the House at this critical point in the special session. If the House can resolve their differences, there is still time if they can pass it to the Senate before Monday."