Texas airport 'anti-groping' bill dies after feds threaten to cancel flights

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by Gabe Gutierrez / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 11:49 PM

Updated Thursday, May 26 at 11:14 AM

HOUSTON – A bill prohibiting intrusive pat downs at airports appears to be dead in the Texas Senate after a threat from the federal government.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, blamed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for caving in to federal officials by turning senators away from his bill. It’s very rare for a Republican to criticize such a powerful politician from his own party, but Patrick said he had never seen a bill derailed quite like this at the last minute.

"Lt. Gov. Dewhurst agreed to move forward with a vote on House Bill 1937 and it was introduced (Tuesday)," said Mike Walz, Dewhurst's spokesperson. "During the course of debate, several senators withdrew their support for the bill and it was pulled down by the sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, after it became clear that the bill lacked the requisite votes to pass.  Lt. Gov. Dewhurst offered Sen. Patrick another opportunity to hear the bill again (Wednesday)."

Patrick told KHOU 11 News he doesn't have the support to bring the bill up again for a vote.

"Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is concerned about the invasiveness of airport security screening procedures and supports the rights of law-abiding passengers," Walz said.

The measure would have made it illegal for anyone conducting searches to touch private parts under or through clothing.

The House recently approved the bill. The Senate was about to pass it until the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice told lawmakers to back off late Tuesday night.

In a letter to lawmakers, federal officials said they would have to cancel flights in and out of Texas airports, if the measure passed, because of security concerns.

"Government is doing what the terrorists could never do,” said State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, the bill’s sponsor in the House. “We are groping, we are ogling people in their private parts -- 60,000 a day! The terrorists never dreamed they could do such damage."

The full-body pat downs have proved controversial since they were started last year.

"I remember when I was younger, going to the airport was so much fun," said Paige Marshall, a
Houston college student who was traveling at Bush Intercontinental Airport Wednesday. "Now you're scared. You feel like you're immediately a criminal."

A former Miss USA said she was "molested" during a security screening at DFW Airport in April. Other YouTube videos have shown TSA agents patting down children across the country.

They're very invasive, said Michelle Brown, who was flying out of Houston Wednesday.

Of course, not all travelers agree.

"It's the better alternative,” said Charlie Bachman. “If I have to get radiated or get a pat-down, it'll be a pat-down every time."

Others felt the extra security was obvious precaution ever since 9/11.

"It's actually necessary based on the times we're living in," said Paul Mathangani.

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