By State Senator Dan Patrick
The day started off on a high, the formal signing of the sonogram bill, but ended on a low when the Lt Governor worked against our bill to stop the TSA from invasive touching of passengers. I had 30 of 31 Senators in support in the morning, but the Lt Gov waited until late in the afternoon for a letter from TSA that threatened Texas. He them called our bill up around 10 p.m. and while I was on the floor debating the bill he was working to kill the bill according to Senators who talked with me later. This is a time to stand up for our liberty and freedom and not be bullied by the feds. Apparently the Lt. Gov was bullied can caved to the feds threats.
The senator was in high dudgeon. “This was a come and take it moment for the state of Texas!” Dan Patrick proclaimed, trying to rally his fellow senators to stand up against the Feds, those high-handed intruders who had threatened to sue the state of Texas if Patrick’s “intrusive touching” bill became law.
To his dismay, though, the Houston lawmaker was left to face the Feds alone, abandoned not only by his fellow senators but by the lieutenant governor himself. Patrick ended up withdrawing House Bill 1937 from further consideration.
“It’s great when your lieutenant governor works against your bill while you’re on the floor,” Patrick muttered as he stalked off the Senate floor. (The lieutenant governor, of course, had a different view of the matter).
The little state/federal drama started late Tuesday night when Patrick assured Dewhurst he had the votes to bring up his bill, which would prohibit “intrusive touching” at airports and other public buildings. Patrick said the legislation, co-sponsored by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, was designed to prevent security screeners from touching the genitals and other private parts when people go through checkpoints. He said the bill would classify certain invasive and inappropriate conduct used in certain searches as official oppression, a crime under Texas law.
After he had cooled off a bit, Patrick told reporters he initially had 30 votes for the bill. When he began debating its passage on the Senate floor, several senators began telling him they were going to have to back off their support. He noticed Dewhurst talking to individual senators and assumed he was “peeling off the votes.”
“I’ve never seen the lieutenant governor work against a bill as a senator was trying to pass it,” Patrick said.
He said Dewhurst had told him earlier in the day that the state had received a letter from the Transportation Security Administration. “And I said, ‘And? Why not bring the bill up?’
“Why are we going to let the TSA tell Texas what to do? They’ve had this entire session to speak out on this issue, and we haven’t heard from the federal government. And two TSA people come to the back hall today and tell me that if we pass this bill, this could close down all the airports in Texas. I don’t cave in to heavy-handed threats by the federal government. . . .”
In the letter, U.S. Attorney John Murphy warned that the legislation would “criminalize searches that are required under federal regulations” and would “conflict directly with federal law.”
Murphy also wrote that “Texas has no authority to regulate federal agents and employees in the performance of their federal duties or to pass a statute that conflicts with federal law.” He said the federal government would seek a court order to prevent enforcement of the law if it passed.
Otherwise, Murphy wrote, “TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of the passengers and crew.”
Patrick was ready to call the Feds’ bluff. “This is a moment when you stand up for Texans,” he said. “Nobody wants to make our airports unsafe. The TSA needs to address this issue. Our law-abiding citizens should not be subjected to invasive searches that are embarrassing and humiliating.”
Dewhurst had a slightly different take on the matter. “Sen. Patrick asked me if he could be recognized,” he said. “I said that we had been contacted by the State Department this morning, and there was a letter that came in from the U.S. attorney for the Western District. And he [Patrick] said no, that he thought he had his votes, and when I recognized him and we brought the bill up, all of a sudden members realized that there had been a letter from the U.S. attorney, and some of the people started changing their minds.”
Dewhurst said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, came to the podium and showed him that there were 12 senators opposed to the bill, enough to block it. Watson acknowledged that he had worked against the bill.
Patrick was still fuming. “I have a feeling that Rick Perry would not have been here working against this bill,” he said. The senator declared the bill dead.