California wants to crack down on Clear at the airport

New York CNNClear is a service that lets people skip the security line at airports with nothing but a biometric scan and $189. Some California lawmakers want to make changes to it in the state, saying it separates travelers into haves and have-nots.

California lawmakers voted 8-4 to move a bill out of the Senate Transportation Committee that would create a moratorium on Clear’s expansion at state airports. The bill has to be approved by the full California Senate and Assembly and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to become law.

Clear, a publicly-traded security company, lets members jump the line at airports, sports, concerts and other venues. For $189 a year, Clear members can verify their identity at an airport kiosk using their biometric data, such as a face scan or fingerprint, without having to show their ID to a Transportation Security Administration agent. Once a traveler’s identity has been verified, the traveler is escorted by a Clear employee right to the front of a TSA security line.

Line-skipping has created frustration and a feeling of unfairness among some other travelers who don’t have access to or can’t afford the price of the Clear membership. (The TSA’s PreCheck program, which is run by the government agency, costs $78 over five years.)

“When it comes to making one’s way through airport security, the quality of that experience shouldn’t be contingent on a traveler’s income or willingness to pay,” Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement to CNN.

Travelers who are not enrolled in Clear are “subject to the indignity of being shunted aside to make way for those who do,” Newman said. “This is inequitable, especially in light of the fact that it’s their tax dollars which fund airport security services in the first place.”

Clear offers expedited service at nine airports in California. About 10% of California travelers are Clear members, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Line skipping is the issue at hand

But California lawmakers don’t want to end the program entirely. It’s more about the pain of watching someone else skip a line.

The bill, which appears to be the first in the United States, won’t block Clear at California airports, Newman said. Instead, it seeks to have Clear and other third-party screening services operate separate lines for members.

This would mean general passengers won’t have anyone cutting in front of them anymore, and Clear passengers can still fly through their dedicated security lane, he said.

It also would prohibit airports from entering into new contracts with private companies like Clear if they use existing TSA security lines and screeners.

The bill has support from the Association of Flight Attendants and a California branch of the American Federation of Government Employees representing TSA agents.

But Clear, and major airlines like Delta, California airports, and business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce oppose the bill.

Clear did not comment directly on the bill to CNN. But a Clear spokesperson said the company has created hundreds of jobs in the state, serves nearly 1 million California residents and contributed more than $13 million in revenue to state airports. Airports earn fees from leasing space to Clear.

“We are always working with our airline and airport partners as well as local, state, and federal governments to ensure all travelers have a safer, easier checkpoint experience,” the spokesperson said.

A legislative analysis of the bill conducted by the California Senate Transportation Committee said that if airports were to lose the revenue from Clear, they would make it up from other customers, such as car rental companies, concessionaires or airlines.

It may also be difficult for airports or Clear to obtain dedicated TSA security lines and screeners, the analysis found, since TSA is a federal agency and is beyond the authority of the state. Increasing TSA staffing requires congressional approval.

But Clear “may have some ability to persuade Congress on this,” the analysis found, by pushing the company to advocate for additional funding for TSA lanes and agents.