New Jersey pilots have been swept up in a last-minute push by the state's general assembly to recess for the summer. Legislators late yesterday passed a bill to require identity background checks for flight students. AOPA is now asking Governor James E. McGreevey to veto it.
"If the governor doesn't veto this bill, we'll go to federal court, just as we have in Michigan," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "There is no compelling security reason for this bill; the federal government has already stepped in. The bill not only duplicates federal efforts, it also usurps federal authority to regulate pilots—authority that both Congress and the courts have said belongs to the federal government alone."
The bill suddenly resurfaced late Friday. AOPA lobbyists in Trenton immediately began talking to lawmakers to kill the bill once again. That effort was reinforced this morning when AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula sent a letter to the speaker of the N.J. General Assembly 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 had 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."
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.
The primary sponsors of the New Jersey pilot identity bill were Sen. Wayne R. Bryant (D-Dist. 5), Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Dist. 36), Rep. Neil M. Cohen (D-Dist. 20), and Rep. John S. Wisniewski (D-Dist. 19).
All New Jersey state senators voted in favor of the bill.
In the assembly, only eight members voted to defeat the bill, including Rep. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R-Dist. 16), Rep. Peter J. Biodi (R-Dist. 16), Rep. Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Dist. 25), Rep. Michael J. Doherty (R-Dist. 23), Rep. Alison McHose (R-Dist. 11), Rep. Richard A. Merkt (R-Dist. 25), Rep. Guy R. Gregg (R-Dist. 24), and Rep. Connie Myers (R-Dist. 23).