June 28, 2011

Texas bill on TSA pat-downs facing final showdown today

The House will consider the anti-groping bill on the special session's last day.

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AUSTIN -- After surviving a progression of near-death experiences, a controversial bill to ban intrusive searches by federal airport security officers faces a final showdown today, the last day of the special session.

House members will consider the bill in what is make-or-break time for Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The two conservative Republicans have waged a vigorous effort to push the measure into law and concede that today's vote is their last opportunity.

Simpson can pass the bill with a simple majority of the 150-member House but he needs a four-fifths vote -- 120 members -- to suspend the rules and bring the measure up for consideration on the final day. He cleared one hurdle Tuesday when the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill to the House floor.

"I'm encouraged, and we'll see where people are tomorrow," Simpson said after the committee vote.

The bill, which has provoked opposition from the Transportation Security Administration, died during the regular session after TSA officials threatened legal action. But it surged back to life after Gov. Rick Perry included it on the special session's agenda.

The bill has a die-hard fan base of largely conservative supporters, who are rallying behind it to end what they call widespread and invasive screening procedures by TSA agents. Dozens of supporters converged inside the Capitol on Monday to denounce changes in the legislation that they say severely weakened the bill.

House Speaker Joe Straus earlier denounced the bill as a "publicity stunt" but dropped his resistance to the measure after the House gave preliminary approval to a bill substantially retooled by Simpson. The measure that will be up for a vote today is Patrick's Senate-passed measure, which he described as "significantly stronger" than the House bill.

The bill would expand the federal definition of "official oppression" to prohibit federal employees from improperly touching a person's private areas. Violations would constitute a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

News reports about a 95-year-old woman being forced to remove her adult diaper during a pat-down at an airport in northwest Florida has fanned renewed criticism over TSA procedures.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294

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