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January 05. 2012 11:07PM

House passes bill to track airport security abuse

CONCORD —A state database will be created to track and review abuses by federal airport security agents under a bill the House approved Thursday.

House Bill 628, which passed on a 188 to 136 vote, would allow someone who believes an airport security screener was overly aggressive or abusive to report the incident to the police or country sheriff. And the bill would allow a person to record or videotape a search by a federal security agent.

Originally, the bill would have charged an airport screener with sexual assault for touching or viewing a person’s breasts of genitals, which would have required the agent to register as a sex offender with local police.

Bill supporters said the bill would shine a light on and potentially prevent abuse by federal security agents who violate people’s dignity and rights during searches.

Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, said one of his constituents had an agent put his fingers inside the woman during a search. “To me that seems indecent and illegal,” he said.

He said keeping the database would allow state officials to look for patterns of abuse and problem agents who could be identified and tracked. “This would shine a light to ensure citizens’ dignity and rights are protected,” Manuse said. “And second we will be able to see how big a problem we have with the TSA here in New Hampshire and if there is something further we need to do in the future.”

Under the bill, the database would be maintained by state police. The name of the person making the complaint would be confidential, but the database would be public.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, questioned why lawmakers were dealing with what is clearly a federal issue when there are so many other state issues that need addressing.

“We know the biggest issues are jobs and the economy,” Shurtleff said. “What are we doing dealing with this?” In all the hearings on the bill, he said, not one person testified directly that he or she had a problem at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. There was a lot of second-hand stories, but not any direct testimony, he said.

Shurtleff said the bill would also allow county sheriffs or police chiefs to be charged with official suppression if they fail to file the complaint with the state in a timely manner. “Why are we making criminals out of our sheriffs?” Shurtleff asked.

He said if someone believes they have been abused, they should go to the Londonderry police at the airport or the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and file a complaint.

But the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, said “We need accountability to make sure people who file complaints do not get brushed off. We can actually get citizens in our state tracking and protection.”

House Speaker William O’Brien praised the passage of the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

“While security is of utmost importance, the maintenance of that security must be conducted in a way that respects citizens’ rights and decency. Our citizens should not be forced to have their rights trampled just to board an airplane or to work at an airport,” he said.


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