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Texas House Speaker Stymies TSA Anti-Groping Bill

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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.

About Dave Nalle

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/realist Realist

    But conservatives are all about law and order for everyone but themselves! How could the Speaker go against his party’s morality and security standards and prevent everyone (but the well-connected who can bypass this abuse of individual dignity) from doing their part to end the fear of explosive underwear?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Well, that was an incomprehensible response, Realist. In this case conservatives are opposing excessive security measures, as are liberals and just about everyone else except some elements of the entrenched political class. So it doesn’t fit into your neat little boxes of assumption.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    The TSA is just one of several US security organisations that need disbanding urgently.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    “Abusive,” “invasive” searches by TSA employees are rare exceptions. This is a non-issue, and the speaker is completely correct in calling the bill a publicity stunt. How someone with at least that modicum of common sense came to have a position of authority in the toxic Texas state government is an interesting question.

    Has Dave been ‘invasively’ searched? Nah. He makes noise about this because, and only because, it provides PR for his beloved “liberty” movement. If this is really the most important “liberty” issue you have to write about, why not stop writing and give us all a rest?

  • DGreene

    What is sad is not that a conservative speaker blocked a civil rights bill. What is sad is that we need the conservatives to stand up for our civil rights to begin with.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    “Civil rights bill”?! It is actually a large chunk of baloney.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    DGreene –

    What is sad is that we need the conservatives to stand up for our civil rights to begin with.

    I remember the author of this article recently saying that civil rights are the problem, not the answer.

  • Clavos

    Have the TSA man the doors to Congress. It will be disbanded within days…

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Handy, as Chris Rose pointed out (and this is a rare moment of agreement, take note) the problem is not just these searches, but the TSA itself.

    The RLC and liberty advocates nationwide would like to see the entire TSA and the DHS and the Patriot Act done away with entirely.

    But this groping issue is what we call a “wedge issue” – it’s a way we can introduce the larger campaign against the TSA with an issue which has an emotional appeal to a broad audience which we might not be able to reach otherwise. If we can use this small but outrageous issue to turn people against the excesses of the security state in general, then it has opened the door to a huge and very important victory.

    This bill and this issue is not the war, it’s just a battle where we’ve found some friendly ground to fight on.

    Dave

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    I remember the author of this article recently saying that civil rights are the problem, not the answer.

    Sure I did, Glenn. Show me where.

    Dave

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    #9: As I said, this is just PR/propaganda for your ‘movement.’ But it’s irritatingly small minded, and based on emotion rather than fact.

    And yes, I think Christopher’s statement was uninformed nonsense — a rare instance of disagreement. But his ‘all political systems are bollocks’ worldview is relatively recent [at least on BC] and possibly not yet fully formed or thought through. He may get there eventually.

  • zingzing

    “The RLC and liberty advocates nationwide would like to see the entire TSA and the DHS and the Patriot Act done away with entirely.”

    they were for it before they were against it.

    welcome to the real world! how was conservatovia?

  • Cannonshop

    #12 Actually, Zing, most of US opposed the entire ball of snakes, it’s the Libs who pushed it through in cohorts with the big-business and relgious-nanny-stater GOP “mainstream” after 9/11.

    The truly sad part being that the only Democrat voice willing to speak up before PATRIOT was passed, was Jim McDermott of Seattle-the rest of YOUR party fell right in line and passed it.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    You asked me to show you where you posted that civil rights were the “real problem”:

    I hope that one of the things we’ve learned from history is to target real problems like civil rights rather than the lame talking points you bring up at the end of this article.

    You said that here.

    Now that statement could be read two ways – one, that the lack of civil rights is what needs to be targeted, or two, that we have too much in the way of civil rights and the said overabundance needs to be targeted.

    Near the end of the article (which was all about remembering those who stood up for civil rights), the author had decried “Business profits trumping human decency. That refrain is all too familiar in today’s America.” You called his observation a “lame talking point”.

    So on the one hand, we could say that because you’re a libertarian, you’re all about civil rights…

    …but on the other hand, by your opinion of Ronald’s “talking points”, it could as easily be said that you apparently hold profits as being more important than civil rights. I combine that with the fact that even though you are a libertarian and should be strongly for civil rights for all, you align yourself with the Republican party which is against civil rights, and in the past you have aligned yourself with Ron Paul who has stated that the Civil Rights Act was not about civil rights.

    So how do we address this particular conundrum, Dave? Which is more important to you – civil rights? Or profits? Don’t say they’re equally important, because you are a part of that party that is all about profits and doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about the rights of LGBT’s, Muslims, or anyone who’s in non-military government service.

    Please enlighten me as to your position.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    It is true that only Jim McDermott originally voted against the Patriot Act.. but what happened when it came up for renewal in 2005?

    Forty-four Democrats joined 207 Republicans in voting to renew key provisions of the act, with some modifications, for four years. Eighteen Republicans, 155 Democrats and one independent voted against it.

    And your rabid-right boys over at Newsmax.com had this to say about what happened the very next year:

    FBI agents and CIA officers will tell you that their single most important tool for hunting down terrorists and avoiding another 9/11 attack is the Patriot Act. Yet the Patriot Act will likely be the first law the Democrats will try to eviscerate if they gain control of Congress.

    This year alone, the Democrats overwhelmingly voted five times to kill the Patriot Act. When that didn’t work, they filibustered. Last December, after the vast majority of Senate Democrats voted against renewing the Patriot Act, their minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., boasted to a cheering crowd of political supporters, “We killed the Patriot Act.”

    On the House side, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with a majority of House Democrats, voted on March 7 against re-authorizing the Patriot Act.

    And what happened THIS year? Since the Dems are in control, guess which party suddenly found religion and started howling about how bad the Patriot Act is? The Republicans. And – every bit as sadly – which party suddenly started saying that we need it? The Democrats.

    And what’s the real driver behind all this? The preservation of political power and the fact that if (when) another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil happens, the party in power will be blamed and will be voted out. The Patriot Act is IMO not much more than a tool that helps the party in power do the CYA dance.

    If the Republicans win in 2012 (and were I a betting man, I’d bet serious sums against such an event), suddenly they’d really like the Patriot Act all over again, and the Dems would once again realize that the PA is an attack on our rights as American citizens.

  • http://bradenpace.wordpress.com Braden

    Great article, Dave. It’s a shame that one man could stand in the way of something that is overwhelmingly supported by the legislature and the governor himself. Sounds like the Speaker has got to go…

  • zingzing

    glenn nails the republican strategy: “Since the Dems are in control, guess which party suddenly found religion and started howling about how bad the [insert anything, even if it was the republicans that wrote it] Act is? The Republicans.”

  • zingzing

    cannonshop: “#12 Actually, Zing, most of US opposed the entire ball of snakes, it’s the Libs who pushed it through in cohorts with the big-business and relgious-nanny-stater GOP “mainstream” after 9/11.”

    eh? in the original vote, russ feingold voted against it and another dem didn’t vote at all. in the house, republicans voted pretty much in lockstep for it, but the dems voted about 30% against it. yes, the dems did help push that piece of shit in, but letting the republicans off the hook is just stupid. only 3 republicans in the house voted against it (and 211 for) and none in the senate.

    in 2006, the republicans still voted in lockstep, with only 13 voting against. the dems, this time, were about 2/3rds against it. so even in 2006, the republicans still weren’t against it.

    either the numbers make you a liar or you’re confused, or i’m confused about what you’re talking about. i don’t discount that last idea, but you can’t tell me the republicans were in any way against the patriot act, at least until recently. and trying to put the blame on the dems… come on, man. revision is one thing, but you’ve got to make it believable.

  • zingzing

    i guess that’s leaving out the tsa and dhs, but the dhs act of 2002 (which includes the tsa, or grew to), was voted for with zero nays by the republicans in the senate, and only 10 nays (compared to over 200 yays) in the house. the dems, meanwhile, voted against the act in the house by a large majority. once it got through the house, the dems in the senate seemed either defeated or mollified.

    so when were most of you against the entire ball of snakes? not back then. or at least that’s not how your elected representatives chose to represent you. and it certainly wasn’t the dems that pushed it through.

    maybe you could enlighten us. have you been reading pride and prejudice and zombies? because that’s what this is beginning to feel like. you’ve shoved some fantastical boogie men into the story. maybe they fit in your telling, but i’m just reading for the laughs.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    I realize there was a long, long back-and-forth on this when Dave published his first article on this idiotic Texas legislation, and I don’t want to just rehash it, but….

    Every country in the world has airport security. The TSA is the current means of executing that security in the US. We are going to continue to have airport security. It’s not going anywhere.

    I understand the emotional reaction to the idea of an undertrained government employee groping a passenger. But this happens rarely, not frequently. It’s mostly a hypothetical. So why pretend it’s a pressing national issue? This is just Internet anti-government Tea Party heavy breathing. Not reality. Why not just focus on finding and firing [or retraining] the few bad eggs?

    On the larger issue of abolishing the TSA:

    [a] It ain’t gonna happen. You can claim all day that there is public support for preventing groping, but most people want safe airports and airplanes and are not agitating for major changes.

    [b] If it did happen [big if], then what? Whatever replaced the TSA [and something would] would in effect be the TSA with a new name. And the first time some bozo slipped through security with a weapon, draconian new measures would be added immediately.

    The TSA exists in large part because the government and the airlines want people to feel safe [even if that's an illusion]. The primary purpose is not to flex government muscle, and certainly not to feel up grandma.

  • Cannonshop

    First off, Handy, “What did TSA Replace?” We HAD airport security before TSA-the people who were doing it were PROFESSIONALS, instead of works-programme amateur wannabee Cops who couldn’t get a job as a Mall-cop or Prison Guard. I’d suspect we’d have the professionals back (or, at least, professional STANDARDS back). 9/11 happened not because of a failure of AIRPORT security, but as a result of a string of failures beginning in 1996 (the failure to extradite Osama Bin Laden) followed by INS failure to follow up on persons with lapsed Visas (most of the 9/11 crew let their student visas lapse and were in the U.S. illegally), followed by a failure by “Terrorism Experts” (the doctrine up to that point was COMPLIANCE with hijackers, not resistance to them.)

    These guys hijacked four airplanes with BOX KNIVES. They were able to do so, because passengers and flight crew allowed them to do so, and that, in turn, is because said passengers and flight crew were conditioned to submit to threats of violence, and were completely disarmed…by federal law (FAA regulations) at the time.

  • Seeker451

    Well it looks like a “few bad eggs” are being defended by the TSA in “Feeling up Grandma”

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    Ah. So if it’s run by a private company, then the people are more professional – but if it’s run by the government, it’s doomed to failure?

    See, that’s the problem – conservatives have convinced themselves that the government can do absolutely nothing right (unless they’re directly running things, of course)…and so they want to slice-and-dice the funding for the government – and then when the government can’t do its job due to lack of funding the conservatives congratulate themselves – “see, we were right all along!” – and never realize that their part in perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Instead of helping to keep what government does right – and they DO many crucial things very well (though most conservatives will never admit it (as they deposit their Social Security checks)) – and simply fixing what the government does wrong, they want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    That’s not smart. That’s like telling a guy that he can run a lot better if he’d just shoot himself in the foot.

  • zingzing

    i’m not forgetting about 18 and 19, cannonshop. i’d still like to hear about this mythical time when the republicans fought a hard, if ultimately ineffective, fight against the dems to stop their draconian patriot act and the creation of the dhs and tsa.

  • Clavos

    If the Republicans win in 2012,…suddenly they’d really like the Patriot Act all over again, and the Dems would once again realize that the PA is an attack on our rights as American citizens.

    Quoted for Truth.

  • Clavos

    See, that’s the problem – conservatives have convinced themselves that the government can do absolutely nothing right (unless they’re directly running things, of course)…and so they want to slice-and-dice the funding for the government – and then when the government can’t do its job due to lack of funding the conservatives congratulate themselves – “see, we were right all along!” – and never realize that their part in perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Yeah, you’re right — well, almost; conservatives are actually MUCH dumber than that.

    I say kill ‘em all and solve algore’s overpopulation worry.