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Texas Bill Criminalizing Airport Pat-downs Is Back

By WILL WEISSERT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) â¿¿ A contentious proposal to criminalize excessive touching by agents during airport security pat-downs returned Wednesday to the Texas Legislature, along with concerns that the federal government could ground all flights into and out of the state if it ever becomes law.

The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on a bill by Rep. David Simpson of Longview that would make intentionally touching travelers' private parts by security officials illegal without probable cause.

The tea party Republican introduced a much-ballyhooed measure in 2011 making it illegal for anyone conducting searches to touch travelers' privates, even though clothing, while prohibiting searches considered offensive "to a reasonable person."

That bill passed the full House but died after federal officials threatened to close all Texas airports amid concerns that Transportation Security Administration personnel could face criminal charges just for doing their jobs.

Simpson promised to renew his efforts when the biannual Legislature opened in January, though his new proposal is somewhat softer. It clarifies that security agents must be deliberately touching inappropriately rather than doing so incidentally during pat-downs.

Simpson said his bill was more necessary than ever because traditional metal detectors at airports have increasingly been replaced by full-body scanners that "basically allow people to be viewed naked." He said he and others who object to that now often have no choice but to endure pat-downs.

"The problem is this effort at security is really treating travelers, innocent people, as criminal suspects and making them submit to unreasonable, very intrusive searches," Simpson said. He added of security agents: "They're violating peoples' most sacred areas of their bodies."

The committee could have sent the bill to the full House for consideration but instead left it pending. It also invited TSA representatives to testify, but they declined.

Simpson acknowledged that existing Texas official repression laws already prohibit groping and inappropriate touching by airport screeners or any other security official, but said it was necessary to further spell out restrictions because abuse of power during pat-downs is so common.

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