New Jersey pilots have been swept up in a last-minute push by the state's general assembly to recess for the summer. Legislators are today debating a bill to require identity background checks for flight students.
AOPA representatives are talking to lawmakers in Trenton. AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula also sent a letter to the speaker of the N.J. General Assembly this morning, arguing against the bill. Cebula noted that both the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration had offered legal opinions that only the federal government has jurisdiction to decide who may or may not receive a pilot certificate. He also pointed out the many security measures added at the federal level to prevent terrorists from getting pilot certificates.
"Using 'watch list' databases maintained by the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, the list of licensed pilots is thoroughly reviewed by federal officials to look for persons of interest who may be impacted by this rule," Cebula wrote. He also noted that all pilots are now required by the FAA to carry a government-issued photo ID as well as their pilot certificate when they fly, and that when a pilot applies for a certificate, the FAA examiner is required to verify the pilot's identity using a government-issued photo ID.
"AOPA has successfully forestalled action on N.J. Senate Bill 432, which would require all flight students in the state to undergo fingerprinting and a background check, for more than a year," said Cebula. "Then, in their rush to adjourn for the summer, the legislators pushed it onto the calendar for quick action this week."
Cebula noted that AOPA has filed suit in federal court in Michigan, challenging that state's pilot background check law, which is similar to New Jersey's, and that lawmakers there are considering a bill to replace the background check with flight school security recommendations.
Cebula concluded the letter by urging the general assembly to withhold any action on the measure.
"We request that you hold any further action on Senate Bill 432 until better language can be adopted to address the concerns of the state without unnecessarily duplicating federal efforts," he wrote.