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"Senate to consider homeland security bills Tuesday"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2007 01:39:41 -0600
Tuesay, February 27, 2007
Senate to consider homeland security bills Tuesday
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - A Senate drive to approve homeland security legislation could lead
to a clash with the White House over airport screeners and standardized
The Senate planned to begin debate Tuesday. The legislation would improve rail
and aviation security, provide funds for state and local emergency
communications systems, improve intelligence sharing between federal, state and
local officials, and expand a visa waiver benefit for favored countries.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, told the Senate on Monday that
it is time to implement the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 commission,
issued last year.
A provision in the Senate legislation would require that airport screeners
receive the same collective bargaining and whistle-blower rights held by most
federal employees. However, it received only Democratic support when it was
approved by the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
It is possible that this language could run into partisan problems on the
Senate floor, where there might not be enough votes to overcome a Republican
filibuster. By themselves, Democrats would lack the 60 votes needed to end
Republican delaying tactics that could kill the provision in the 100-person
At the time the committee adopted the unionization provision, chairman Joe
Lieberman, now an independent senator, said that screeners, who became a
federal work force after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had been denied
the most basic employee protections.
Saying the screeners had been beset with "unusually high rates of attrition,
vacancy, workplace injury, discrimination complaints and other indications of
employee dissatisfaction," Lieberman predicted that the measure would improve
The Bush administration strongly opposed the provision, and committee
Republicans argued that the Homeland Security Department needs flexibility in
setting screeners' schedules and procedures.
The administration may also oppose expected amendments to the REAL-ID Act,
passed in 2005, that set a national standard for drivers' licenses and required
states to link their record-keeping systems. Many states have complained about
the cost of the program, and civil libertarians are concerned about privacy
A Senate rail security proposal projects spending of just over $1 billion
(€760 million) for the next four years to cover upgrading security of both
Amtrak passenger trains and of freight rail systems; upgrading Amtrak tunnels
in the northeast; creating a rail security research program; and conducting a
rail security risk assessment. It would also cover programs to improve security
for trucks and buses, pipelines and hazardous material transport.
Aviation security language requires the Transportation Security Administration
to implement a system within three years to screen all cargo being carried on
commercial passenger aircraft. It is not clear how much this provision could
cost, but estimates have ranged from $4 billion (€3 billion) over 10 years to
$3 billion (€2.3 billion) over the next five years.
The Bush administration has maintained that the provision is unnecessarily
restrictive, with TSA chief Kip Hawley arguing that he needs a freer hand and
more flexibility in setting security standards.
The aviation security measure also calls for TSA to develop a pilot program
using blast-resistant cargo containers and to assess the feasibility of
security screening for small private planes.
Senate leaders were hoping to dissuade lawmakers from introducing amendments on
the Iraq war, which would almost certainly slow work on the bill to a crawl.
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