A bill that would criminalize the infamous “pat-down” at airport security checkpoints has made its way to the Texas Senate after clearing a key vote in the House on Friday evening.
When the bill was introduced, it was seen as a longshot even in the Republican-dominated Texas House.
That seemed to change, however, after a former Miss America beauty pagent winner claimed she was “molested” by Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) workers at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
In the wake of her accusation, a near super-majority of Texas House representatives rushed to add their names to the co-sponsor list, virtually guaranteeing its passage.
The bill would amend a Texas statute pertaining to “the offensive touching of persons,” extending it to security personnel who conduct a search “without probable cause.”
That’s actually the exact wording used in the Constitution in the section outlining prohibitions on unreasonable search and seizure. The legal standard for a lawful search is probable cause: a requirement that law enforcement must meet before most judges will issue search warrants.
The bill specifies that “offensive” touching which takes place as “part of a search performed to grant access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation” would be treated as a state jail felony.
It defines an offender as someone who “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly: (A) Searches another person without probable cause to believe the person committed an offense; and (B) Touches the anus, sexual organ, or breasts of the other person, including touching through clothing, or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person.”
Texas is not alone in the effort: lawmakers in several other states, like New Hampshire, New Jersey and Hawaii, were also considering similar legislation to restrict the TSA in other ways, including: prohibiting the use of x-ray machines that capture images of passengers by looking underneath their clothes; or restricting the ways agents can touch passengers.
The TSA did not appear moved, noting that even if the Texas Senate passes the bill and Gov. Rick Perry signs it into law, it will remain purely symbolic.
“We wish we lived in a world where you could just walk on a plane with no security screening, but that just isn’t the case unfortunately,” the TSA wrote on its blog. “Aviation security agencies worldwide have been using pat-downs long before TSA was created to prevent dangerous items from getting onto airplanes. The pat-down is a highly effective tool to resolve certain alarms and keep these dangerous items off of planes that could cause catastrophic damage.”
“We’re not against national defense; we’re not against security,” Texas Rep. David Simpson (R) told Raw Story in March. “We just don’t want to do it at the expense of our liberties. The terrorists want to take away our liberties and here we have our very own government terrorizing innocent travelers. Traveling is not a criminal act.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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