Texas House Passes TSA Anti-‘Groping’ Bill

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In another bout of tough press for TSA, the Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Friday that prohibits “intrusive touching” when people are seeking access to public buildings and forms of transportation.

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The bill, sponsored by Republican House member David Simpson, comes after some very viral stories about airport security checkpoints. First there was the pat down of a six-year-old that spread across the Web, causing outrage among Washington lawmakers. A few weeks later there was a former Miss USA, Susie Castillo, who opted out of the screening at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and posted a video about how “violated” she felt during her pat down, saying, through tears, that the woman touched her vagina four times. Simpson told MSNBC that his bill was meant to outlaw all “indecent groping searches,” which is precisely the practice many people feel these stories represent, and the bill went on to the Senate yesterday.

Specifically, the bill outlaws public servants from intentionally, knowingly or recklessly touching anyone’s anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breasts, including touching through clothing, and—less specifically—any manner of touching that would be “offensive to a reasonable person.” If the bill passes, convicted TSA agents could be looking at a $4,000 fine and one year in jail, though this would involve tricky ground where state and federal regulations may collide. TSA is taking a cautious line with this, hinting at how rare pat-down problems actually are, despite the high-profile stories:

“We do not comment on pending legislation, though the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents states from regulating the federal government. Between November 2010 and March 2011, TSA screened nearly 252 million people. In that same time period, we received 898 complaints from individuals who have experienced or witnessed a pat down. Less than three percent of passengers require pat downs at the checkpoint.”

On their blog, TSA tries to relate this point in a more sympathetic tone, reiterating that states can’t regulate the feds and that pat downs are rare but saying, “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.”

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