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Sen. Rand Paul introduces air travelers’ ‘bill of rights’

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — A senator who was stopped from boarding a flight after refusing a security pat-down has introduced a pair of bills taking aim at the TSA: one would establish a so-called air travelers’ bill of rights, and the other would replace government-paid screeners with private workers.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s “bill of rights” act also would require the Transportation Security Administration to forward the bulk of the loose change left by harried travelers at checkpoints — $376,480.39 in the 2010 fiscal year — to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.

Some of the money would go to provide up to $5,000 “Passenger Privacy Protection Awards” to workers for the “most innovative idea to improve the privacy of passengers.”

Paul’s bills are among dozens dealing with air travel that have been introduced by frequent-flying members of Congress, who are often lightning rods for complaints and eyewitnesses to airport problems while traveling between their home states and Washington.

Paul’s proposed bill of rights legislation would give the TSA one year to implement a speedier screening process for pre-cleared frequent fliers at airports with more than 250,000 annual flights, permit travelers who fail to pass imaging or metal detector screening to go through the screening again rather than be subjected to an automatic pat-down, and eliminate pat-downs for travelers age 12 and younger and 75 and older unless the screener has a “high degree of suspicion” that the passenger is carrying a prohibited item.

“It seems that every day brings a new account of mistreatment by TSA agents during the screening process,” Paul said in a statement. “While aviation security is undoubtedly important, we must be diligent in protecting the rights of all Americans, such as their freedom from being subjected to humiliating and intrusive searches by TSA agents, especially when there is no obvious cause.”

A TSA spokesman declined to comment.

Paul earlier this year refused a pat-down after triggering an alarm in a body scanner while trying to board a flight to Washington at Nashville International Airport.

Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for airline passengers, welcomed the legislation.

“Somebody has to do something about TSA,” she said in an interview. “It’s out of control.”

The legislation, which would require the travelers’ bill of rights to be posted at airports, would eliminate pat-downs for all travelers unless they fail to clear a metal detector or advanced imaging technology “multiple times” or a screener has a “specific reason” to suspect they are carrying prohibited items. A traveler selected for a pat-down would have the right to request that the pat-down be administered using the back, rather than the palm, of the screener’s hand. The bill also would entitle parents to stay with children during screening.

Paul’s bills have been sent to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for consideration.

A separate bill has been introduced in the House to turn over loose change left behind at checkpoints to the USO for its airport programs in support of the military. Congress currently allows the TSA to use the unclaimed money to help fund its operations.

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