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"Senate to consider homeland security bills Tuesday"



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 
drivers' licenses.

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 
chamber.

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 
security.

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 
issues.

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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