States Seek to Criminalize Some TSA Pat Downs

Many air travelers have likened the intrusive TSA pat downs to sexual assault. Several states are looking to make it officially so and penalize TSA workers for it.

“Call it what it is. It’s sexual assault. Let’s put their name on our sex offender registry, and maybe that will tell them New Hampshire means business,” Rep. Andrew Manuse said to WMUR 9.

Manuse is one of the sponsors of House Bill 628, which seeks to criminalize “the touching or viewing with a technological device of a person’s breasts or genitals by a government security agent.” The bill would classify persons convicted of the offense as Tier 3 offenders under the criminal offenders registry.

“The (criminal justice and public safety) committee is very concerned about these searches,” said Greg Moore, New Hampshire House policy director. “They wanted to do something that, at the very least, sent a strong and clear message to the TSA at just how displeased they were with the manner in which these new searches are taking place.”

A similar bill was introduced in Texas this week. House Bill 1937, authored by Rep. David Simpson, extends the definition of sexual assault to include “certain touching of persons as part of a search performed to grant access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation, intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly without probable cause to believe the person committed an offense.”

“This bill is about saying enough is enough. We’ve turned from prudent caution to ridiculous excessive measures. This is drawing a line in the sand where officials shouldn’t go past without a warrant, without probable cause. You shouldn’t touch someone’s private parts as a condition of travel,” Simpson told KVUE News.

In December, New Jersey Senator Michael Doherty introduced three bills that bans TSA scanners and would make certain body searches sexual assault.

“All of these bills remove any claim that TSA agents are immune to any state statutes that they violate when searching passengers or crew,” Doherty stated. “If we don’t take strong action against these violations, where will it lead? Today planes, tomorrow trains and buses, what then?”

How much impact the bills will have is unknown as TSA agents operate under federal laws, which supersede state laws. Moore thinks the New Hamsphire bill, which has been retained for review during the summer, is unlikely to pass in its original form. One concern, Moore said, is that the TSA might pull its screeners out of the Manchester Boston Regional Airport, which could cause airlines not to fly there.

“There is a lot of belief that the potential harm vastly outweighs the policy goal,” he said.

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