House, Senate pass aviation security bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House approved a compromise aviation security bill by a vote of 410-9 Friday, hours after the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote.
It now goes to the president, who has praised the bill and is expected to sign it Monday.
The agreement comes just as the peak holiday season gets under way and more than two months after terrorists used U.S. passenger jets to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The compromise measure reached Thursday between congressional negotiators and the White House would make all airport security screeners federal employees.
After the votes, House Majority Leader Dick Armey noted that the compromise bill includes 15 provisions that were not in the Senate version of the bill, including provisions for security over luggage, protection of the airports' tarmac areas, proper supervision of food distribution onto the airplanes, and requiring that security personnel be U.S. citizens.
"The very fact that we can stand here today and celebrate with confidence ... the safety and security of the United States was bought by the willingness of (GOP House members) to stand the criticism for not simply endorsing the hasty and inadequate legislative action of the Senate," Armey said.
"The paramount challenge of safety is addressed," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after Senate approval. McCain was a key sponsor of the legislation along with Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.
The new bill would make airport security the responsibility of the newly created Transportation Security Administration in the Department of Transportation.
All security screeners would become federal employees in a transition period lasting one year. But they would not be offered the same civil service protections as other federal employees, according to Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.
Security screeners would undergo criminal background checks and would have to be U.S. citizens.
Ken Quinn, general counsel for the Aviation Security Association, said that at Washington's Dulles International Airport, 72 percent of the current screeners are non-U.S. citizens.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates salaries for security personnel would rise to an average of $35,000 for a screener and $52,000 for supervisors.
Five airports would participate in a pilot program in which security would be provided by private contractors, to test the effectiveness of that option.
In three years, airports would have the option to decide if they want to continue using federal security screening employees or switch back to private screeners who would be working under contract to the federal government. The airports would could use state or local law enforcement to provide security services.
The new federal security screening services would be paid for by collecting from airlines what they paid for security services prior to September 11 -- which is estimated to be about $700 million -- and by charging passengers $2.50 per departure or connection.
Other provisions of the bill include:
-- A requirement that all checked baggage be screened by explosive detection devices by December 31, 2002, and until then, all checked baggage be inspected by other means, including X-ray, positive passenger matching or hand checking.
-- A provision that the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System be used to screen all passengers, instead of just those who check in at the ticket counter.
-- A requirement that flight schools conduct background checks on any foreign national who seeks instruction in the operation of aircraft over 12,500 pounds. Flight school employees would also be trained to recognize suspicious activities.
The original Senate bill had called for federal employees to handle security screening at the nation's largest airports. The House bill, supported by Bush, called for federal oversight of security screening with the option of using private contractors to do the work.
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