Legislation Assembly Democrats L. Grace Spencer, Albert Coutinho and Annette Quijano sponsored to toughen penalties for airport security breaches was approved Thursday by the full Assembly by a vote of 78 to 0.
Spencer, Coutinho (both D-Essex) and Quijano (D-Union) introduced the bill (A-606) after the 2010 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.”
“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,” Quijano 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.”
The bill would establish the crime of entering into restricted airport property in violation of federal security requirements.
The bill sets forth two restricted areas on public airports.
The first area, a “sterile area,” is defined as any portion of an airport that provides passengers access to boarding aircraft and to which the access generally is controlled by the Transportation Security Administration, an aircraft operator or an air carrier, through the screening 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.
The bill provides that any person who trespasses in these areas in violation of federal security requirements is guilty of a fourth degree crime. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for a term of up to 18 months, or both.
The measure now awaits consideration by the Senate.