Phones were ringing off the hook in the Texas Capitol on Monday as thousands of concerned Texans called their legislators to support State Representative David Simpson’s bill to block “enhanced” pat downs by TSA employees in Texas as it goes to Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday.
The legislator from Longview is a libertarian-leaning freshman lawmaker who was endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus, which has been outspoken in opposition to new TSA policies on the state and national level. In addition to his HB1937 which would make intimate pat downs a felony sex crime, Simpson has also sponsored HB1938 which will make deployment of high power backscatter x-ray scanners at airports illegal in Texas.
A similar bill to Simpson’s anti-fondling law, which was also sponsored by RLC-supported legislators, made it through committee in the New Hampshire legislature last week. Like the Texas bill, the New Hampshire legislation would make intimate contact during pat downs a felony sex offense. Less forceful bills in opposition to TSA policies have also passed in Utah and Alaska. More state legislatures, including in Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey are also considering this sort of legislation and bills are likely to be filed in other states soon as well.
In a statement about the bills, Rep. Simpson said:
“Traveling is not a criminal act. Treating travelers as criminal suspects and forcing innocent citizens to submit to humiliating and unreasonable searches without probable cause as a condition of travel violates protections our forefathers envisioned in Section 9 of the Texas Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. Contrary to what some TSA agents have claimed, we do not believe that you give up your rights when you travel in public.”
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas has joined a coalition of groups which support the efforts of Rep. Simpson in opposing the abuses of the TSA. Through the site stopaustinscanners.org they have initiated a write-in and call-in campaign to help push Simpson’s bills out of committee and get them to a floor vote. Members of the organization will also be testifying on behalf of HB1937 on Tuesday at the Texas Capitol.
Opposition to the new TSA procedures has been building since they were announced last fall. A recent poll by a New Hampshire newspaper showed opinion running 9 to 1 against the TSA. That anger at government overreach is leading to organized opposition and legislative solutions at the state level seem to be popular.
Even more than issues like healthcare and immigration, this appears to be an area where the public are outraged and are demanding that state governments step up and protect their civil liberties against a federal agency which is running out of control. This is a transpartisan issue with relevance in every state and it unites people in a way which some of the issues raised by the tea parties do not.
In the name of public safety, government agencies have been given more and more power at great cost to our civil liberties and in violation of the protections guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. This increase in security measures with no evidence that they will produce any results and in violation of the privacy rights of passengers cannot be justified on the basis of any increase in the threat of terrorism. The TSA is engaging in what has come to be known as “security theatre” which scares the public into giving up their rights when there is no clear threat to be found.
At long last, the people of the United States are becoming fed up with trading their fundamental rights for an illusion of security from an ever-expanding state. If our national legislators want to be taken seriously by their increasingly discontented constituents, maybe they should take a close look at the TSA, its policies, and why people are so angry about this and other issues where their elected leaders are failing them so dismally.
At the very least the TSA should be reduced to a purely supervisory capacity as suggested by Senator Rand Paul in his recent budget proposal. Responsibility for airport security could easily be returned to local authorities and the airlines, both of which have a vested interest in keeping passengers safe.
Until then, if the federal government will not obey the limits which the Constitution puts on its powers then it is entirely appropriate for courageous state legislators like Rep. Simpson to take the lead and challenge this abuse of power on the state level.