Airline security: Lawmakers reach compromise
Key senators and House members negotiating an airline security bill said they had reached a compromise Thursday and could have a bill through Congress by the end of the week. The deal still needs to be approved by the House and Senate leadership, but several members indicated they are confident it would get the green light. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the aviation security package by a 286-139 vote November 1. It differed from a comparable bill that the U.S. Senate passed 100-0 October 11.
The agreement is an attempt to bridge the gap between two competing bills that passed the House and the Senate. The Senate bill calls for federal employees to handle security screening at the nation's largest airports. The House bill, supported by President Bush, calls for federal oversight of security screening with the option of using private contractors to do the work.
According to several lawmakers, the deal being suggested would require almost all of the nation's airports to put federal employees in charge of security screening for the next three years. After that, individual airports would have the right to opt out of that federal system and instead request that the screening be handled by private contractors or state or local law enforcement.
To pay for the enhanced security at airports, passengers would have to pay a new fee, according to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. The fee would be $2.50 per leg of a trip, with a maximum fee of $5 per airline trip.
The Senate and House versions both would put more air marshals on planes, strengthen cockpit doors, require more stringent background checks and training for airport security screeners, allow inspection of all carry-on and checked bags, and authorize pilots to carry guns.
The core of the debate is whether to make airport security screeners and baggage handlers federal employees. The House bill calls for federal oversight of private security screening companies, giving the administration the choice to hire private security companies or federal employees. The Senate version makes federal workers of all the security work force at the nation's largest airports.
Almost all U.S. airports would be required to put federal employees in charge of security screening for the next three years. After that, individual airports would have the right to opt out and instead request that the screening be handled by private contractors or state or local law enforcement.
The federal employees working at security checkpoints would be able to unionize, but would not be allowed to strike. All employees would have to be U.S. citizens.
While most airports would phase in the new federal employees over a nine-month period, a handful of airports would be part of a pilot program involving private security companies. The pilot program is meant to test the effectiveness of using privately contracted screeners supervised by a federal agent.
To pay for the enhanced security at airports, passengers would have to pay a new fee of $2.50 per leg of a trip, with a maximum fee of $5 per airline trip.
Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead says there are "still alarming lapses of security" at the nation's airports. Will the new measures put in place by the aviation security bill be enough to make Americans feel safe to fly?
George W. Bush: The president intensified his personal lobbying for passage of the House bill, meeting with GOP lawmakers and making calls into the final hours before the November 1 vote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: The top GOP member on the Senate Transportation Committee and one of the leading critics of the House bill, said he expects the Senate to fight to restore security measures that he said are lost in the House version.
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas: The House majority whip defends the aviation security bill passed by the House as "very comprehensive." He calls congressional critics of the measure "irresponsible" in assailing it as inadequate to protect travelers.
Norman Mineta: The transportation secretary lobbied with Bush in his endorsement of the GOP House bill.
Airline industry executives and pilots: These groups support the House version of the bill, according to senior House GOP aides.
Air Line Pilots Association: The pilots' union may be insulted by critics' suggestion that federalizing screeners would be a bad development if they voted for a union, said Duane Worth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
With the holiday season approaching and Americans still shying away from flying because of post-September 11 security concerns, President Bush has urged Congress to work day and night to give him an aviation security bill.
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