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Perry Adds TSA Anti-Groping Bill to Special Session Call

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

This story featured additional reporting from Beth Brown.

Gov. Rick Perry this evening announced the addition of TSA anti-groping legislation to the agenda for the special legislative session. In a statement, he said lawmakers could consider legislation "relating to the prosecution and punishment for the offense of official oppression on those seeking access to public buildings and transportation."

The announcement came after state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview — a Tea Party favorite — sent a letterto Perry on Sunday requesting HB 41 be added to the call, after attempts to pass it during the regular session were thwarted when the Department of Justice suggested the measure was in violation of federal law.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in his own statement, said he was "very pleased" Perry added the bill to the call. "The Obama Administration overstepped its bounds by implicitly threatening to shut down air traffic in Texas if we passed this bill. After working closely with the Attorney General's Office the last few weeks, I'm confident that we can pass legislation that addresses these threats, while protecting innocent passengers and preserving our state's rights," he said.

The bill would criminalize any intentional, knowing or reckless touching of a person's private parts during a security screening, including through clothing. John E. Murphy, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, wrote in a letter to the Texas House and Senate that Simpson's bill would interfere with the TSA’s civil aviation security responsibilities. The letter and a regular session visit of two TSA officers to Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston and the Senate sponsor of the bill, effectively killed support for it. 

House Bill 41 was passed unanimously by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on June 14, and is co-authored by 112 legislators of both parties. Patrick filed similar legislation in the Senate (SB 29) on June 15 and delivered a letter to Perry’s office saying he had the votes to pass it in the upper chamber. Simpson said in his letter that there is “broad bipartisan support” for the bill, and that it is Perry’s time to “protect innocent people from unreasonable searches of their person by their own government.”

Simpson said the TSA letter that precipitated the bills' failure during the regular session would not intimidate members of the House if it is brought to call, but he has changed the bill slightly in the event of a federal response. The original legislation would have been enacted immediately upon passage, but HB 41 would be effective 90 days after passage “so the TSA can respond and so there can be some breathing room,” Simpson said.

Over the weekend, Perry was in New Orleans signing copies of his new book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington when he was asked about the future of anti-TSA legislation in Texas. He responded that the Legislature "doesn’t have the votes on either side” to pass the bill.

“I said, ‘bring me a multitude of votes,’” Perry said. “...And they never had those votes.”

In the video posted on the website, Perry said he had not seen Patrick's letter indicating the Senate had the votes. Perry said there was "probably not enough time" left in the session to bring up the legislation.

Simpson said he spoke to Todd Hunter, chairman of the Calendars Committee, and said he felt there was enough time to bring the bill to call. Simpson said it would take about a day to pass through the House, and is waiting for the governor's call.

"I know that he received that letter Wednesday of last week and there’s 112 co-authors in the House, so how he can say that there’s not enough votes in either house is incredible to me," Simpson said. "Maybe he’s unaware of it, but I hope that’s why I wrote my letter."

An official in Perry’s office said the governor could still add bills to the call, but he wants to see a general consensus from both sides of the aisle.

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.
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