Updated: Straus Calls TSA Bill "Publicity Stunt"

House Speaker Joe Straus talks to members prior to a debate on HB15 the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011
House Speaker Joe Straus talks to members prior to a debate on HB15 the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011

Updated 3:40 p.m.: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a statement this afternoon saying the Senate will try to pass its version of the bill out of committee on Monday. Dewhurst also said he is working with the Attorney General "to address several issues that were raised when the bill first came up for a vote in the Texas Senate."

Although the full text is not yet available online, 20 House members (not including Straus) authored a resolution "urging Congress to take appropriate action to ensure acceptable treatment of the public by personnel of the Transportation Security Administration." It was filed and referred to the State Affairs Committee post-adjournment today.

Original story: The TSA anti-groping bill hit another roadblock when the House adjourned today without considering the legislation as scheduled. “Our plane was not full to capacity,” House Speaker Joe Straus said, hinting that the House did not have a quorum present to pass the legislation. But that wasn't the only reason the bill wasn't heard.

 “The bill, without some serious revisions, appears to me to be nothing more than an ill-advised publicity stunt, unenforceable…[and] misdirected at uniform security personnel,” Straus said. He argued the bill should be aimed “at Washington, at the bosses of these people."

The bill would criminalize "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly touching" the "sexual organs" of someone during a security screening at a public facility, including airports. Although it passed unanimously out of the House during the regular session, the bill died in the Senate after the Department of Justice threatened to shut down Texas airports if the legislation passed. In a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy said the federal government would be forced to cancel flights in Texas if TSA could not effectively screen passengers to ensure the safety of all flights.

 

The Longview Republican who authored the bill, David Simpson, said he’s not surprised the bill was not considered today. Straus approached Simpson earlier this week and asked him to change the language of the bill. “The first thing I was asked to do was remove the section that refers to private parts,” said Simpson. He was also asked to reduce the standard for searching people in the bill from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.” Simpson did not agree to change the language, but said he would have accepted an amendment, if it was supported by the House, to change the language in the bill.

Today, Straus — showing a degree of public adamance not seen much this session — said the bill will never be considered on the House floor "as written." The House is drafting a resolution to send a message to the appropriate people and address the issue of inappropriate searches “without making the Texas Legislature a laughing stock," he said.

The TSA groping bill is the latest item to be added to the special session call. Gov. Rick Perry originally stated the bill did not have enough support to warrant a second chance. His thoughts were captured and published on YouTube while he was at a book signing in New Orleans. Perry added the bill to the call last week, on the same day Simpson sent him a letter stating that the bill had enough support to pass out of both chambers.

“The only thing I’ve seen from the governor was on YouTube,” said Straus, who said he hasn’t received any guidance from the governor on whether or not to pass the legislation.

The special session ends Wednesday, and with the recent setback, it is unlikely the bill will be approved by both chambers in time to pass. A committee hearing to consider an identical version of the bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was cancelled on Thursday, June 23.


 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.