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Updated: Senate Adjourns, Leaves TSA Issue in House's Lap

The Senate has adjourned Sine Die, leaving the burden of the TSA "anti-groping" bill in the House's lap.

State Rep. David Simpson (l), R-Longview, and State Rep. Allen Fletcher (r), R-Tomball, look for votes on the House floor ...

Updated 4:36 p.m. 

The House approved the first of many hoops to pass the Senate’s version of the bill, voting 97 to 32 to allow a committee hearing to consider the bill. The chair of the committee, Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said he didn’t appreciate the position the Senate put him and his committee in by adjourning Sine Die. “I’m not going to eat it if I don’t like it. If it passes, it’s passed because I’m comfortable with it,” he said.

Updated 4:10 p.m. 

It looks like the House could try to run with the Senate version of the TSA bill. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is asking the House for permission for his committee, House Criminal Jurisprudence, to meet to vote out the Senate version, SB 29. After that, the author of the House bill, Rep. David Simpson, will have to send his measure, HB 41, back to second reading and substitute the Senate bill for it on third reading — which is scheduled for this afternoon. 

“This is an attempt to go back to a simpler, more plain version that is not as grand in scope, but is more targeted,” said Gallego. He said the new version of the bill reflects negotiations with the District Attorney’s Association, and allays the concerns of law enforcement agencies. “By its terms now, the bill applies, as it was voted out of the Senate, the bill applies solely to agents, whether they be actual or contractual employees, of the federal government.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston rose to the podium in opposition to the bill, and asked members not to send the bill to committee. “I have a problem with us doing a bill that has no force by law…only to poke the president in the eye,” he said. 

The House must give the committee permission to meet, then the Senate version of the bill must be voted out of committee. Next, the House has to give Simpson permission to reconsider the vote on HB 41. If the House session comes back on second reading, “at that point, there’s no need for calendars committee or any other action, because you can substitute the Senate bill for the House bill.”

Updated 3:37 p.m.

The Senate has adjourned Sine Die, leaving the burden of the TSA "anti-groping" bill in the House's lap. That leaves the House with one very unlikely option: Putting the wheels in motion to fast-track the Senate's version of the bill.

The Senate has put the House in a "take it or leave it" position, said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. Branch said both the governor and House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Senate not to adjourn, and also to pass the House's non-binding resolution in the event a full bill couldn't get passed. 

The Senate's move was "not very respectful," Branch said. "This is a bicameral system of government that takes two chambers to pass law... We've had time tonight and tomorrow to finish the peoples' business. Apparently they were in a hurry to get out of town." 

But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate adjourned because it wasn't going to have time to take up the House's version of the TSA bill. “We sent over a TSA bill that I think is a good bill,” Dewhurst said of the Senate's version. 

The fate of the TSA bill is still up in the air, but House members, seen negotiating on the floor, are unsure whether they can pass the Senate bill before the special session ends. The bill would have to be passed out of two committees, and the House would have to suspend the rules to vote on it before time runs out.

Earlier today, the House passage of a resolution today “urging Congress to take appropriate action to ensure acceptable treatment of the pubic by personnel of the Transportation Security Administration,” prompted the rumor mill to swirl in both chambers over whether the TSA “anti-groping” bill will pass during the special session. But now that the Senate has closed its doors, not even that resolution can see final passage. 

The resolution was filed last week as an alternative to the TSA “anti-groping” bill, which House Speaker Joe Straus said would never be considered on the House floor “as written.” Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, one of the authors of the resolution, told the lower chamber the resolution “addresses the concerns that Rep Simpson has made about the TSA.”

Yesterday, the House tentatively approved the House version of the bill, authored Rep. David Simpson, R-Lonview, after significant negotiations between House members, the Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorney’s Association. The House added a “clarifying” amendment to the bill, lowered the standard for searching an individual to “reasonable suspicion” and passed the bill on second reading.

** 

As House lawmakers prepare to consider their TSA "anti-groping" bill on third reading, the author of the Senate's version of the bill says the upper chamber's language is far stronger.

But with the clock running out on the special session, it's unclear whether the differences will get resolved.  

The chances of the Senate version of the bill passing before the special session ends tomorrow is highly unlikely. For that to happen, the House must take it up in committee — quickly — vote it out of the Calendars committee — quickly — and send it to the House floor, where it would have to be voted on in second and third readings, suspending the rules and not adding amendments.

More likely is that the House could amend the Senate version of the bill onto the House bill, which comes up for a vote on third reading today. Or the Senate could simply settle for the House version, take it up in committee this evening, then vote it out tonight or tomorrow. A third option? The Senate could take up the House version, amend it to look like the Senate version, then force a conference committee, where the differences could probably be hashed out before Sine Die.  

Both chambers' bills would create a misdemeanor crime for federal agents who "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" touch the private parts of a person seeking access to a public place. But Houston Sen. Dan Patrick's Senate version, passed by the upper chamber last night, strips out some key words now contained in the House bill — "constitutionally reasonable" — intended to provide a defense against prosecution. In a Senate committee hearing yesterday, both district attorneys and citizens found the language problematic.

“This bill has input from the district attorneys, input from the Attorney General, and input from the citizens," Patrick said of the Senate version. “This bill is a bill the DAs can prosecute and this bill is a bill the Attorney General can defend all the way to the Supreme Court if needed."

 

 

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