N.J. stiffens penalties for airport security breaches

A bill that would stiffen penalties for those found guilty of airport security breaches in New Jersey was signed into law this week.

The legislation, sponsored by State Assembly Democrats L. Grace Spencer, Albert Coutinho and Annette Quijano, was sparked by a 2010 incident at Newark Liberty International Airport in which a Rutgers University graduate student slipped under a security ribbon at the airport to wish his girlfriend goodbye.

Although the 28-year-old man had no ill intent, his actions resulted in the terminal being shut down for six hours. He was subsequently sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $658 fine.

"Clearly our law needed updating," Spencer said. "Lovesick is fine, but it cannot involve jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people and violating the security regulations."

Under the new law, those who enter restricted areas at public airports unauthorized would be guilty of a "fourth degree crime," which is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 18 months in jail or both.

"We needed 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."