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House Version of TSA Bill Still Alive

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, talks to a colleague on the House floor on May 16, 2011.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, talks to a colleague on the House floor on May 16, 2011.

The House version of the TSA “anti-groping” bill is alive — and significantly changed. The House tentatively approved it on a voice vote this afternoon.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, the author of the bill, added a “clarifying” amendment to address the concerns of the Attorney General. He said the amendment reorders the wording of the section about private parts, adds a reasonable defense clause, and a provision to salvage the bill should it be ruled unconstitutional in the courts.

After asking Simpson to confirm that “these were significant and important legal changes,” which would make the law easier to defend in court, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas commended Simpson for working with the Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorney’s Association to change the language of the bill.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, also offered an amendment to change the language of the bill from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.” Fletcher was part of a panel put together by House Speaker Joe Straus at the request of the governor to address issues in the TSA bill and make it “palatable to the entire House.” Last week, Straus called the bill a "publicity stunt" and said the legislation would never be considered on the House floor "as written." The other members of the panel included Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, Rep. Todd Hunter, Rep. Pete Gallego, Rep. Charlie Geren and Simpson. 

“All law enforcement wanted it to be reasonable suspicion, instead of probable cause,” said Fletcher. The Supreme Court ruled peace officers have the right to search based on reasonable suspicion, rather than probable cause, in the 1968 case Terry vs. Ohio. “The bill is [applicable to] public buildings, court houses and facilities, so we wanted our peace officers to be held accountable only to what the Supreme Court has already ruled is applicable to law enforcement,” he said.

“I want to make sure it's not perceived as anti-law enforcement... or anti-safety,” said Gallego, who offered an amendment to clarify the legislative intent of the bill. The House also accepted his amendment to recognize “the tremendous role of law enforcement in protecting the public.”

Before the vote, Simpson said he would accept Fletcher’s amendment, because it is necessary for the bill to pass given the brief timeframe left in the special session. “I don’t think it’s the best thing to do, but it’s the best thing to do politically,” he said.

The Senate version of the bill, which passed out of a Senate committee today, had similar changes. Those changes include a defense for prosecution provision for federal officials, which district attorneys at the hearing said created “vagueness” and may make the law difficult to enforce. Senators approved the substitute, but said it would have to undergo significant changes on the floor in the form of amendments.

 “I would hope that the TSA understands that we, as members of the Texas Legislature and in Texas, we...think that they’re overstepping their bounds. We don’t think they should be groping our citizens,” Fletcher said. 

After the House adjourned, InfoWars radio host Alex Jones, who stormed the capitol with a rally of protestors after the original bill died in the regular session, stormed the capitol again. He called the altered version of the bill a "monstrosity" and specifically blamed Gov. Rick Perry for advancing the "pedophile protection program," his description of the TSA. 

"What they've done is pass a bill that masquerades as freedom," Jones yelled, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

Becca Aaronson develops data interactives and reports for The Texas Tribune. After an internship in fall 2010, she was hired by the Tribune to help cover the 82nd legislative session. She previously interned at the Houston Chronicle. Becca is a native of Austin who graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., with a degree in cultural theory.
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