(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho sponsored to toughen penalties for airport security breaches was advanced Monday by a Senate panel.
Spencer and Coutinho (both D-Essex) introduced the bill (A-2288) after the Jan. 3 incident at Newark Liberty International Airport involving Haisong Jiang, 28, a Rutgers University graduate student who lives in Piscataway.
Jiang was arrested after authorities identified him as the man who slipped under a security ribbon after a guard briefly left his post. Jiang entered an area where passengers already had been screened. When someone noticed what happened, the terminal was shut down for six hours.
“Mr. Jiang was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and a $658 fine, but his goodbye kiss cost taxpayers and commuters thousands of dollars,” Spencer said. “Clearly our law needs updating, Lovesick is fine, but it cannot involve jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people and violating the security regulations.”
“We need to send a stronger message that airport security rules meant to protect the public and keep airport travel orderly cannot be taken lightly,” Coutinho said. “We’ve been in a new day and age since 9/11 and our state laws must accurately reflect that reality.”
The bill was approved 78-0 by the Assembly in May and released Monday by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. It would:
·Establish the crime of entering into restricted airport property in violation of federal security requirements.
·Set forth two restricted areas on public airports.
·The first area, a “sterile passenger holding area” is defined as any portion of a public airport designated by appropriate signs as an area into which access is conditioned upon the prior inspection of persons and property.
·The second area, an “operational area” is defined as any portion of a public airport, from which access by the public is prohibited by fences or appropriate signs.
Under the bill, any person who knowingly trespasses in these areas would be guilty of a fourth degree crime punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 18 months or both.
“We know all too well that security threats exist, so obviously we need more than the threat of disorderly persons charge for those who violate basic airport security rules,” Spencer said. “It’s puzzling that someone who violates airport security and disrupts national air travel and the lives of thousands of people is facing the same charge as someone who would, for example, spit on a sidewalk.”
“It’s hard to believe that someone who breaches airport security may simply get what amounts to just a slap on the wrist,” Coutinho said. “Clearly, this is an area of our law that needs to be stricter.”