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"Deal Reached on Security Bill"



Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Deal Reached on Security Bill
By JIM ABRAMS
The Associated Press

 
WASHINGTON - Congressional negotiators reached tentative agreement Tuesday
on steps to strengthen air and sea defenses against terrorists in
legislation aimed at fulfilling recommendations made three years ago by the
9/11 Commission.

The bill outlines plans to inspect all cargo on passenger planes within
three years and screen, within five years, all U.S.-bound cargo ships for
nuclear weapons before they leave foreign ports.

It also realigns the formulas for distributing federal security funds so
that states and cities most at risk of terrorist attack receive a larger
share.

Rep. Benny Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security
Committee, said he had closed out final issues after a meeting with Sen. Joe
Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee.

However, the final language was still being circulated among the negotiators
and no formal announcement of a deal was expected Tuesday evening.

The compromise bill gives a much needed victory to Democrats who go into the
August recess with few concrete achievements to show for their first six
months in control of Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House could vote on the
bill Friday, and the Senate is expected to act before leaving for the
recess. The White has expressed opposition to parts of the bill,
particularly the provision to screen 100 percent of cargo in foreign ports,
but has stopped short of issuing a veto threat.

The nonpartisan 9/11 Commission, formed after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001
came out with 41 recommendations to make the nation safer from terrorist
threats, covering transportation security, emergency preparedness and
reforms to U.S. intelligence and diplomatic policies.

Congress and the White House have already moved to carry out some of those
proposals, including creating the new position of director of national
intelligence, tightening screening procedures on land borders, moving toward
standardized and secure IDs, and taking countermeasures against terrorist
financing.

But Democrats, in taking control of Congress, made it a top priority to act
on unfulfilled recommendations. The House passed its bill on the first day
of this session last January, and the Senate followed suit in March. Getting
together to formulate a compromise was delayed for months over issues such
as White House opposition to provisions, since dropped, that would have
given airport screeners collective bargaining rights.

The last obstacle was cleared when negotiators crafted language to satisfy a
Republican demand giving immunity from lawsuits to people who report
suspicious behavior. The issue grew out of an incident last fall where six
Muslim scholars were removed from a flight in Minneapolis after other
passengers said they were acting suspiciously. The imams have since filed a
lawsuit, saying their civil rights were violated.

The legislation requires that all ship containers bound for the United
States undergo radiation screening before they leave foreign ports. The aim
is to stop ships containing nuclear devices before they reach American
destinations.

"Failure to screen all cargo containers overseas doesn't just 'miss the
boat,' it could also miss the bomb, with devastating consequences for our
country," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a chief proponent of the
measure.

There's a five-year deadline for meeting the requirement, but, in a nod to
critics who question whether the technology will be ready in time, it gives
the Homeland Security secretary authority to extend that deadline in
two-year increments.

It approves more money for checkpoint and baggage screening at airports and
requires the Homeland Security Department to screen all cargo on passenger
aircraft within three years.

The bill changes the formula for distributing federal security grants to
better reflect terrorist threats. Currently states are guaranteed 0.75
percent of grant funds, but the bill cuts that guarantee in half and
approves $950 million annually over the next five years for state homeland
security grants.

The legislation also authorizes separate grant programs for rail, transit
and bus security at more than $4 billion for four years and creates a new
program within the Homeland Security Department to improve communication
links among state, local and federal officials.

Also coinciding with 9/11 Commission recommendations, the legislation
strengthens a board that oversees privacy and civil liberties issues,
establishes a new electronic travel authorization system for countries that
have a visa waiver agreement with the United States and requires Congress
and the president to disclose the total amount of funds appropriated for the
intelligence community, a number that is now classified.


The bills are H.R.1 and S.4

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