BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – State Rep. Sharon Cissna, R-Alaska, made national headlines when she took on federal airport screeners this February, refusing to submit to her second “intrusive” search and body pat down in three months by the Transportation Security Administration. When the then 68-year-old cancer survivor, who also suffered abuse in her youth, was barred by federal security from flying from Seattle, Washington to her home in Alaska, she took alternative transportation. During the four-day journey home to Auke Bay near Juneau, she heard from several other people about embarrassing and humiliating experiences they’d had with the TSA.
“Ordinary citizens across this country have told us they are being treated like common criminals by the TSA.” Cissna, who had a mastectomy, said “Many of them are cancer or other health-related survivors, whose prostheses, pacemakers or other surgically implanted devices cause them to be continually subjected to embarrassing pat-down procedures.”
That personal communication – combined with more than 1,000 letters, emails, calls and visits Cissna received after national exposure on her story and her testimony that followed before the U.S. House – led to a new partnership with Sen. Val Stevens in Washington State. Together Cissna and Stevens formed the United States for Travel Freedom Caucus in March 2011, inviting legislators from across the country who’d introduced TSA reform legislation to join them.
On Tuesday, Cissna and Stevens met for the second time virtually with state lawmakers organizing to make sure Americans can “travel safely, but not at the expense of their freedom and dignity.”
So far, there are 9 states with legislators in the caucus including Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.
To get the attention of Congress, they hope to recruit at least 32 states in total. “Congress has made a terrible mistake by not finding out what is happening with the TSA. I told my story and people responded to my story, and through that experience, I learned how widespread and how big of a problem this is. This is a huge problem,” Cissna said.
Members include Rep. Will Tallman of Pennsylvania, Rep. Diane Sands of Montana, Assemblywoman Alison McHose and Sen. Michael Doherty of New Jersey, Reps. Jenn Coffey and Jordan Ulery of New Hampshire, Reps. Chris Tuck and Max Gruenberg of Alaska, and Sen. Sam Slom of Hawaii.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Cissna. “We invite any state legislator – or federal for that matter – to join us in this effort. Americans deserve to travel safely, but not at the expense of their freedom and dignity. There is a way to do both, and we’re here to reclaim these rights for every citizen.”
One of Stevens’ main concerns is the effect of the TSA procedures on children. “Parents will wisely not want their small children subjected to the scanners’ x-rays, so they opt for the pat-down. As children are touched in places they have been told to protect, they become traumatized. One six-year-old from Kentucky, subjected to a pat-down in New Orleans, started crying from humiliation. It was just heartbreaking. We should not be doing this to our kids.”
Their second meeting including all these states via teleconference was livestreamed on the Alaska legislative web site today.
Several members discussed legislation they introduced in their respective states; some legislators on the teleconference noted that the TSA or U.S. Department of Justice had lobbied against their proposals.
Garnering the most attention today was Rep. David Simpson, R-Texas, who got unanimously passed in the House, HB 1937, banning TSA’s use of full naked body scanners. He told the caucus that the legislation could pass the Texas Senate today.
Hawaii’s legislature adjourned May 5 without taking action on a measure similar to the one in Texas. Senate Bill 1150 was introduced in January by Sen. Sam Slom and had four Democrat state signatories. The bill was referred to three separate committees, and never given a hearing, but will still be alive in the next 2012 session.
Other states, whose legislatures are still in session, are expected to post positive gains with either bills or resolutions.
Alaska legislators, who hope to pass similar legislation, already sent a resolution to Congress asking for better oversight.
The caucus members also are looking to work with legislative membership groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Council of State Legislatures to create model legislation for all states to consider.
Some of the issues surrounding the TSA are privacy, collection of data on individuals, the invasive nature of the pat down and searches and the use of radiation in the machines. In addition, there are the overall costs and escalating costs of the TSA, which increases cost to taxpayers.
Finally there is an issue of federal supremacy and whether or not the fourth amendment, that is the protection against illegal search and seizure, has standing. Legal experts and politicians are researching that part of the issue right now.
See an earlier report on this issue by TSA caucus member Sen. Sam Slom