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Simpson rips state leadership over pat-down bill failure

By Glenn Evans
June 29, 2011 at 10 p.m.

The airport pat-down bill could not overcome a procedural hurdle Wednesday in the Texas House as hostile words over a Longview freshman's bill colored the final hours of the 82nd Legislature.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, needed 120 out of 124 lawmakers who remained at work that morning to bring his bill outlawing intrusive passenger searches up for a vote. He got 96, but said he was not surprised given the way the deck had been stacked by the dealers - fellow Republicans Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus.

"All three of them at least at three junctures showed what they really believed," he said Wednesday afternoon. "The governor was either ignorant or misinformed or did not tell the truth when that man talked to him at the book table."

Perry, on a Florida book-signing stop earlier this month, told a man, who caught him on video, that the bill did not have the votes or time to pass despite 112 House co-authors and two weeks remaining in the special session.

Simpson gave an angry speech just before the House adjourned, accusing his fellow politicians of hypocrisy, violating the Bible's 9th Commandment against bearing false witness and misleading the public about the real implications of the state budget. He also singled out Straus for killing the bill behind the scenes

"Politics has a lot in common with fairy tales, in both arenas you have to suspend rational faculties in order to comprehend what is going on," Simpson said. "Rarely in the history of this Legislature has, to my knowledge, the state's leadership so masterly worked against the will of its members and the people they represent. Leadership arranged it so that every member could cast a vote in support of a bill they would ensure would not pass."

The governor's office received more than 10,000 phone calls, emails or other correspondence in favor of Simpson's bill from May 16 through June 20, a News-Journal open records request revealed. There were 13 messages against the measure.

Dewhurst "blinked," Simpson said, when federal authorities threatened to ground flights on account of the bill. And Straus on Friday called the bill a mockery before giving it a green light Monday.

That light turned bright yellow on Tuesday when it passed on second reading, but because of House rules, it could not be taken up until Wednesday and needed a four-fifths majority. Simpson tried to maneuver it to passage by substituting the Senate version.

That didn't please a super majority.

"I would suggest the author of this bill before the House know his methods and know the rules before he starts popping off and making acquisitions," Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, said during debate, probably meaning "accusations" at the end of his sentence. "I think it's very insulting, as insulting as the Senate sending this stupid bill over here in the damn first place."

Simpson's measure was defended by his fellow East Texan, Republican Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler.

"Once again, the eyes of every state in the United States are on the state of Texas," Berman said. "This bill has been in the newspapers in every state. By passing this bill, Texas will lead the nation."

Berman said Transportation Security Administration already had amended its policy and "greatly reduced the touching of children" in response to the Texas bill.

The chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego, said state law enforcement and district attorney associations had told him they opposed the bill because it would force them to prosecute federal employees for following national guidelines.

In its final form before the House on Wednesday morning, the bill required federal transportation agents to have a reasonable suspicion a passenger was concealing "an unknown, prohibited or unlawful object" to touch a person's private areas.

"It'll stop the routine touching of people's private parts for just refusing to go through a (body) scanner," Simpson said, later adding Transportation Security Administration officials never contacted his office.

Some Democrats, formerly co-authors of the bill, had announced opposition, calling it a political attack on President Barack Obama.

Simpson said it was not, noting the Patriot Act authorizing the so-called enhanced pat-downs was a legacy of former President George W. Bush.

"This was not promoted to bash our president," Simpson said. "This bill is intended to protect the dignity and liberty of our citizens here as they travel, and others who come into this state."

Wednesday afternoon, Simpson lamented the death of a measure he said, in the end, was more about individual rights than states' rights.

Simpson said two fellow freshmen legislators told him in March they had been told not to sign their names as co-authors " ...because the governor didn't want it. So, I knew from early on that there was opposition to it. ... The cause will continue. Even if I don't carry it, people are upset. Maybe one of these other states can get it done."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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