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House Committee goes the distance on rail, mass transit, bus security bill

(The following article by Shweta Govindarajan was circulated by Congressional Quarterly on March 13.)

WASHINGTON -- Federal requirements for rail and mass transit security were part of a bipartisan bill approved Tuesday by the House Homeland Security Committee.

Before approving the measure, 30-0, the committee adopted, by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., that makes minor changes to the measure, including adding a provision that would require a threat assessment of school bus transportation systems.

The measure (HR 1401) would authorize more than $5.1 billion for the next four years for rail, mass transit and bus security and would require the Homeland Security secretary to establish regulations for rail and mass transit sectors.

Under the bill, “high-risk” and “medium-risk” transit systems would have to submit vulnerability assessments and security plans to the secretary for approval.

The measure also would establish new grant programs for rail and mass transit security from fiscal 2008 to 2011: for rail, $2.4 billion; mass transit, $3.7 billion; and buses, $87 million.

Republicans offered more than 15 amendments during the markup, several of which were adopted by voice vote, including one by the the panel’s ranking Republican, Peter T. King of New York.

King’s amendment calls for the Homeland Security secretary to require each transportation provider — including contractors and subcontractors — assigned to a high-risk tier to conduct checks of their employees against available terrorist watch lists and immigration status databases

Also adopted was a proposal by Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., that would require the rerouting of hazardous material shipments.

A bill (HR 1269) sponsored by James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, would take a different approach from the House Homeland Security Committee bill by giving the Homeland Security Department responsibility for assessing security and risks for transportation systems and establish guidelines for issuing grants. It would give the Transportation Department responsibility for distributing the awards.

The two panels are currently engaged in negotiations.

A third bill, introduced Tuesday by John L. Mica, R-Fla., would give the Transportation Department even more power over the grant process. The draft measure would allow the department to establish priorities for issuing grants while relegating the Homeland Security Department to a “consulting” role.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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