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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Michigan also considers criminalizing 'intrusive' searches by airport screeners.

Lawmaker wants to criminalize ‘intrusive’ searches by airport screeners

Published: Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Oakland County lawmaker is taking aim at the Transportation Security Administration and how its agents perform airport passenger security checks.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, wants to make it a misdemeanor for any TSA employee to “conduct an intrusive, personal search on citizens without reasonable cause.”

The legislation introduced Thursday by McMillin was referred to the state House Judiciary Committee.

McMillin referenced a recent incident at Detroit Metropolitan Airport “where a 29-year-old special needs passenger was subject to an allegedly intrusive search.”

“The federal government is not God,” McMillin said Friday. “It doesn’t get to decide what it can do to our citizens. This is one law that needs to be in place.”

McMillin’s bill says TSA screeners “shall not intentionally touch the clothed or unclothed breast, genitalia, buttocks or anus of that other individual except upon reasonable cause to believe that the individual may be concealing an item that is prohibited on that public property or on that mode of public transportation.”

Under McMillin’s bill, a first offense could draw a penalty of up to 93 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.

McMillin said he patterned the bill after similar legislation in Texas. In Texas, the state House approved it but the state Senate rejected it after the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote that such a law would conflict with federal law and criminalize searches required under federal regulations, and that TSA would likely be required to cancel flights if it couldn’t ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

The TSA was formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 to “strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce,” the TSA website says.

But the federal agency has been criticized for its pat-down searches, chosen by travelers who are uncomfortable with TSA’s use of advanced imaging technology to screen passengers.
“My wife just traveled with our kids,” McMillin said. “We had to make the decision. We were nervous about them groping our children.

“I think there is an interest in the state in standing up for our citizens,” he said. “As we keep hearing about the problems throughout the nation, it’s a good safeguard.”

TSA screeners are most visible in commercial airports like Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus and Bishop Airport in Flint.

At general aviation airports like Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Township, the TSA has no screeners, said J. David VanderVeen, Oakland County’s director of central services, which oversees the airport.

VanderVeen most recently was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Aeronautics Commission.

“I’m not sure the state Legislature can preempt federal rules,” VanderVeen said of McMillin’s legislation.

Most flights in and out of the local county airport are smaller private, corporate or charter flights.

“We’ve had some contacts with TSA, but they’re not stationed on the airport,” he said. “Our contact has been along the lines of security, the cameras and fences, and meeting the current federal standards.”

U.S. Customs and border patrol agents screen incoming international flights, he said.

“General aviation has an advantage in that the pilot knows the manifest, he knows everyone on the airplane,” VanderVeen said.

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