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"Aviation Security Bills Taking Shape"



Monday, October 1, 2001

Aviation Security Bills Taking Shape


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Whether personnel at airport security gates should be
federal employees remained the last big obstacle to congressional action
to improve airline and airport security. 

Compromises were being considered Monday in both the House and Senate,
with the aim of passing legislation by the end of the week. 

The White House and House Republicans favor creating a new agency to set
standards for screeners. Senate leaders have proposed putting screeners
on the federal payroll, with status similar to Customs or immigration
officials. 

No final decision was expected until lawmakers return to Washington
Tuesday. Monday's negotiations seeking common ground were among
congressional staff in both chambers. 

In the Senate, one suggestion was to federalize screeners at larger
airports while giving the Transportation Department flexibility to hire
local security or law enforcement personnel at smaller airports. 

A proposal under consideration in the House, where Democrats were
pushing for federalization, would put at least one federal officer, such
as a manager, at each screening station. 

President Bush proposed last week increasing the number of air marshals
on flights, helping airlines pay for better fortified cockpits and new
security equipment, deploying the National Guard at airports and setting
federal standards and procedures for screeners. 

While lawmakers have endorsed most of those recommendations, some have
contended that government oversight of screeners doesn't go far enough.
Their argument is that privately contracted screeners tend to be poorly
paid and poorly trained and have unacceptably high turnover rates. 

A task force looking at ways to improve airport security submitted
recommendations Monday to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta that
track Bush's proposals, according to sources familiar with the task
force deliberations. A second task force, looking at airline security,
is to report to Mineta on Tuesday and will also follow Bush's lead by
suggesting an increase in air marshals and stronger cockpit doors,
according to a congressional staff member. 

While the task forces entertained such suggestions as banning all
carryon luggage and prohibiting passengers from selecting seats in
advance, Rep. John Mica said the final recommendations will be in line
with the positions of the Bush administration and Congress. 

``It's better to have a broader handle on real terrorist threats and
deploy your resources and your efforts where the real risks are,'' said
Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. ``In the
past, there's been some knee-jerk reactions and a lot of money spent on
equipment and procedures that haven't accomplished much.'' 

The aviation security bill would be the third major response by Congress
to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, following passage of a $40 billion
emergency spending bill and a $15 billion relief package for the
airlines. 

House Republicans are working on a bill that largely follows the lead of
the president, creating a new transportation security agency at the
Transportation Department to oversee rail and port as well as airport
security. Screeners would still come from private companies, but an
oversight board, headed by a person from an intelligence agency, would
be appointed to ensure that security standards are upheld. 

The Senate, meanwhile, is fine-tuning legislation sponsored by Commerce
Chairman Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and top Republicans on the
committee, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kay Bailey
Hutchison of Texas. Staffers from both parties said strong support
exists in the Senate for finding a formula where screeners become civil
servants, either at the federal or local level. 

A U.S. Conference of Mayors task force on airport security, chaired by
Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn, recommended Monday that a federalized
security force be put in place for passenger, baggage and cargo
inspections. 

The mayors also urged Congress immediately to provide airports money for
increased security, impose airspace restrictions on all general aviation
and charter flights and reopen Reagan National Airport in Washington. 

There also was movement in both chambers toward imposing a passenger fee
to help pay for the new security measures. The original Senate bill
would establish a $1 security tax, and negotiators were looking at some
combination of passenger fees, federal money and contributions from the
airlines. 

The House was considering a $2.50 fee for a one-way flight, the amount
sought by House Democrats. 

Also unresolved was a Democratic demand that the legislation provide
relief for the more than 100,000 airline employees who have lost their
jobs since the terrorist attacks. One possibility suggested by the White
House is that relief for displaced workers could become part of an
overall economic stimulus package that probably will introduced within
weeks.

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