Proving that the extortionist tendencies of the Obama administration aren’t limited to the NLRB’s suit against Boeing, the Department of Justice threatened the state of Texas with a complete suspension of air travel in and out of that state if its Senate approved HB 1937, a bill which would have banned “intrusive touching of persons seeking access to public buildings and transportation.” The penalty for doing so would have been a $4,000 fine and one year in jail. Authored by Representative David Simpson (R-Longview), and passed in the House by a vote of 138-0, HB 1937 was the first bill in the country designed to derail the TSA’s intimate pat-downs absent the probable cause guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. As of now, the bill is dead.
A letter signed by U.S. District Attorney for Western Texas, John E. Murphy, is the epitome of coercive innuendo. Sent to House Speaker Joe Straus, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and the House Clerk and the Senate Secretary, the letter warned these officials of the “significant legal and practical problems that will be created if the bill becomes law,” noting that “the intent of the bill is to preclude a [federal transportation official] from turning away from the secure area of an airport someone who otherwise would have been subjected to a pat down as a condition of entry.” Murphy then warned Texans that if the Senate chose to enact the bill, “the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute. Unless or until such a stay were granted, TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”
Senate sponsor Dan Patrick (R-Houston) was undeterred. Initially believing he had the votes to pass the bill, he pressed on, angrily noting that “I don’t cave in to heavy handed threats by the federal government.” Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst allowed the legislation to proceed to the floor of the Senate for debate. At that point, support wavered, and Patrick withdrew the bill.
One of the senators who withdrew his support was Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), who had voted in favor of the bill in committee. Mr. Hinojosa said that while he agreed with Patrick on principle he couldn’t vote for a measure that supersedes federal law. “The bill makes it a crime for a [federal TSA employee]…to perform a federal screening that he or she is required by federal law to perform,” he said. Another dissenter, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), concurred. ”I would hate for 181 members of the legislature to think that they can override the concerns of the TSA officials. In fact, I know state law cannot override federal measures,” he said.
Yet Sen. Patrick blamed the failure on fellow Republican Dewhurst. “When you stand on the Senate floor and the president of the Senate calls the bill up, he’s not supposed to be working against the bill while you’re debating it,” Patrick fumed. “This was a case of the federal government bullying Texas, and apparently they bullied the lieutenant governor.” In a column for the Ne Tarrant Tea Party website, the Senator elaborated: “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 (sic) 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…[and] caved to the feds’ threats.”
Dewhurst spokesman Mike Walz disputed that assessment. “That’s completely inaccurate,” he said, noting that while Hinojosa was speaking, another senator, kirk Watson (D-Austin), approached the Lieutenant Governor with a list of 12 Senators who had changed their minds after becoming aware of the DOJ’s intentions to close airports or cancel flights. Walz said Dewhurst was still willing to bring the bill to the floor in spite of the letter, believing the senate would pass it regardless.
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