The fight against the draconian policies of the TSA suffered a surprise setback on Friday when Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, announced that he would not allow a floor vote on Rep. David Simpson’s bill criminalizing the TSA’s invasive searches of airline passengers in Texas.
This unprecedented action from the Speaker comes at the end of a week in which it looked like passage of the bill in the special session of the legislature was finally assured after massive grassroots efforts to influence Governor Rick Perry and convince him to sign the bill when it passed. Supporters had obtained pledges to support the bill from large majorities in both houses and a promise from the governor to sign it on passage. It looked like the path was clear for Texas to be the first state to make a clear statement in opposition to the unchecked power abuses of the TSA.
Straus’ effort to deep-six the bill on Friday was crudely executed and left many wondering about his motivations and who may have influenced his 11th hour decision. Reports say that he called roll and announced a quorum in preparation for a vote on the bill and then later claimed that there wasn’t really a quorum and therefore he could not enter the bill as requested by Governor Perry. He also apparently claimed that Simpson refused to make requested changes in the bill, when it seems that only one significant change was omitted. Simpson did not agree to change the standard for when an enhanced search could take place from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. Simpson wanted the House as a whole to decide on that final modification. Straus didn’t. so he shut the process down, calling the bill “nothing more than an ill-advised publicity stunt.”
Simpson responded with a strongly worded press release. Other backers of the bill apparently came to his aid, and the bill is now on the schedule for a Monday hearing with the House Transportation Committee as the Senate version moves forward under the hand of Senator Dan Patrick. It’s possible that if the bill gets modified in committee to satisfy Straus’ demands that it may still go forward, but it has already been substnatially watered down from it’s original form and may be hard to recognize once the committee is done with it.
Straus appears to be afraid of the entire concept of disputing federal supremacy in any serious way. His concerns don’t make a great deal of sense. This is not an attempt to override a federal law or the existence of the TSA, just an attempt to challenge a bureaucratic policy which clearly violates the civil liberties of citizens which are supposed to be protected under state as well as federal law. As a Texas lawmaker Straus’ first priority ought to be protecting the rights of Texas citizens, not acting as a hatchet man for federal bureaucrats.
The implications of Straus’ efforts to shut down this bill reach beyond Texas. Simpson’s bill had become the spearhead in a nationwide effort to challenge abusive policies at the TSA and call for the restoration of civil liberties sacrificed needlessly in the name of the War on Terror. Efforts in other states and at the federal level will go forward, but the unexpected sabotaging of the Texas bill, which had come so close to passing, is a major setback.
The dramatic story of ths effort to stand up for the rights of air travelers against the mindless abuse of an unaccountable bureaucracy is not over yet. Although the people have already spoken again and again through calls to legislators and the Governor and through polls and testimony, the widespread bipartisan support for this legislation remains strong. If Speaker Straus manages to kill the bill or weaken it to the point of meaninglessness, he will be held accountable.