Texas bill to restrict airport pat-downs dies

A controversial bill that would have criminalized “intrusive” pat-downs by airport security died in the Texas Legislature on the final day of a special session Wednesday, but some lawmakers say they will take up the legislation in the future.

The bill, which prompted federal officials to threaten to ground flights in the state, failed during the Legislature’s regular session in May, but was revived when Gov. Rick Perry ordered that it go on the special session’s agenda.

The bill passed in the Senate, but in the House a four-fifths vote was required to suspend constitutional rules and bring the bill to a vote. The procedural vote failed 96 to 26.

The bill was similar to another House measure that would have required federal agents to have “probable cause” before conducting searches that included the touching of a person’s anus, genitals, buttocks or breasts.


House Speaker Joe Straus criticized that legislation last week, calling it an “ill-advised publicity stunt,” and refused to consider it as written. He then dropped his opposition after the bill was significantly retooled to allow intrusive pat-downs if agents had a “reasonable suspicion” such a search was warranted.

The House bill’s author, Rep. David Simpson, a Republican from Longview, said the bills “brought attention to the tyranny and humiliation of travelers in this state and across the nation.” He said he planned to introduce similar legislation in the future.

Last week, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it would change its policy to reduce the number of pat-downs of children after criticism stemming from online videos showing a 6-year-old in Kentucky and a toddler in Kansas City, Mo., being frisked.

Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, a Houston Democrat, argued during a debate on the House floor that the measure would put travelers at risk.

“Legislation designed to improve the safety of passengers is important and deserves serious consideration by the Texas Legislature,” he said. “However, legislation designed to prove a political point against the federal government instead of putting public safety interests of the people of Texas [first] betrays the best interests of our state.”