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Texas governor asks lawmakers to pass airport "groping" bill

Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Monday added to state lawmakers' special session agenda a measure that would criminalize "enhanced pat-downs" by Transportation Security Administration agents at airports in the Lone Star State.

The bill died during the regular session of the Texas Legislature, which ended May 30, and the Republican governor -- who is thinking of running for president -- has been under pressure from conservatives and Tea party groups to ask lawmakers to reconsider the measure. During special sessions, the Legislature may only consider items that the governor puts on the agenda.

"I am grateful that the governor heard the calls of the people demanding that lawmakers stand up for the liberties of Texans," Wesley Strackbein, a conservative activist and founder of TSATyranny.com, told Reuters. Strackbein said he traveled to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans over the weekend to confront Perry on the issue.

The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor -- punishable by up to a year in prison or a $4,000 fine -- for a TSA agent to "touch the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of another person, even through that person's clothing" for the purpose of "granting access to a building or a form of transportation."

TSA pat-downs have drawn some high-profile criticism, including from former Miss USA Susie Castillo, who said in a widely-viewed online video. that she felt "molested" by a pat-down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in April.

The proposed law passed the Texas House during the regular session but was pulled off the Senate floor without a vote after U.S. Attorney John Murphy circulated a letter to senators warning that TSA has the authority to prevent airplanes from taking off from Texas airports if the agency cannot certify that they are safe.

In a blog on its website, TSA pointed out that the supremacy clause of the U.S. constitution prohibits states from regulating the federal government.

"We, transportation security officers in particular, are trying to work in partnership with the traveling public to make you safe on flights," the blog says. "Work with us to provide the best possible security. That's all we ask."

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan)

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