Aviation security bill passes
BY JIM ABRAMS Associated Press
Nov 17, 2001
Lawmakers hope legislation sent to Bush will restore travelers' confidence
WASHINGTON -- Trying to reassure travelers, Congress sent President Bush a sweeping
aviation security bill Friday to establish a new federal force to stop weapons and
bombs from getting on planes and to strengthen cockpit doors against would-be
A direct response to the Sept. 11 at
tacks, the legislation would make all 28,000 airport screeners federal workers. It
would move toward inspection of all checked baggage and put law enforcement officers
on duty at
screening points. On planes, it would ensure that cockpit doors would be reinforced
and locked and that air marshals would become a common presence on flights.
The legislation, said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., in a speech echoed by other
lawmakers, is "the most significant transportation and aviation security measure to
pass the Congress in its history."
President Bush said putting the fed
eral government in charge of aviation security would make the skies safer and he
looked forward to signing the bill.
Congress was determined to pass the bill before it adjourned for the Thanksgiving
holiday to give confidence to Americans before the busiest traveling season of the
year that airplanes will be safe. After a compromise was reached Thursday on the issue
of airport screeners, staff worked
all night to draft the bill, enduring a 5:00 a.m. computer breakdown.
"This is not only a security measure but more than anything else an airline
stimulus bill," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., a
leading sponsor. The hope is that safety measures will draw more Americans back to
flying, helping the aviation industry recover from its current financial crisis.
In rapid succession Friday, the Senate passed the legislation by voice vote and the
House by a 410-9 margin. All nine dissenters were Republicans. Oklahoma's six House
members voted in favor of the measure.
The Senate passed its version of the bill by 100-0 on Oct. 11, but reaching common
ground with the House took time because some House Republicans objected to provisions
in the Senate that put all screeners on the federal payroll. The House-
passed bill maintained federal control over screeners but gave the president
flexibility over whether workers would be civil or private.
Currently, airlines contract out screening to private security firms, a system that
has proved flawed because the screeners they hire have tended to be poorly paid,
poorly trained and had high turnover rates. The new federal workers are to be paid at
least $30,000 a year, double current rates.
On Thursday, the Massachusetts state police superintendent barred Argenbright
Security, the nation's largest airport security firm, from working in the state
because it had hired workers with felony convictions and probation violations and was
responsible for security lapses at Boston's Logan International Airport.
With such problems in mind, many Republicans rallied behind the demand for a full
federal workforce. "Security is not something that you can contract out to the lowest
bidders," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
In a compromise crafted by Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, all
airports must switch within one year to federal workers to screen baggage and
travellers. For the next three years, all airports must employ that system, except for
five, from five different size categories, that can volunteer for pilot programs
experimenting with other security approaches.
After three years, airports can opt out of the federal program, but New Orleans
Mayor Marc H. Morial, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he thought most
airports would keep their federal workers. While lawmakers hope the bill will give
a psychological lift to worried holiday travelers, those travelers can expect to see
few immediate changes. Among those, they should see more law enforcement officers --
under the bill law enforcement personnel will be at every screening post at major
airports -- and there should be a rapid expansion of the bag screening.
Airports have 60 days to initiate plans to increase inspection of checked
luggage, and by the end of 2002, all bags must undergo explosives detection
While the Senate generally prevailed on the screening issue, the House won
inclusion of such provisions as the creation of a new Transportation Department
agency to oversee all transportation security matters and the expansion of security
measures to include monitoring of the tarmac, caterers and other areas.
The Transportation Department is allowed to authorize the use of weapons in cockpits.
A $2.50 fee is to be levied when a passenger boards a plane to pay for the added
security costs, with a maximum payment of $5.00 for a one-way trip. That fee is to go
into effect within 60 days.