Senate panel OKs port security bill; House debates similar measure

| 5/4/2006

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill on Tuesday, May 2, that, if it becomes law, would beef up security practices at the nation’s ports.

The bill would require the Homeland Security Department to make plans to scan 100 percent of cargo containers at foreign ports before they are allowed to continue to the U.S. Only about 5 percent are scanned now. The committee did not set a date for implementation of the screening program.

Meanwhile, the full House began consideration Thursday, May 4, of its own port security bill. It would also require containers to be screened, but Democrats in the House want 100 percent of containers screened while some Republicans say that’s not necessary. The House bill, however, does have bipartisan sponsorship and support.

The Senate’s port security bill has a plan for a pilot program to conduct cargo screening at three foreign ports, which will be determined at a later date. It has bi-partisan support from sponsors Sens. Patty Murray, D-WA, and Susan Collins, R-ME, and was approved by the Senate committee 14-2.

In addition, the bill contained a provision calling on the Transportation Security Agency to step up movement on the Transportation Worker Identification Card program. The bill calls for full implementation of the program by no later than June 2007.

The TSA has already begun screening 400,000 port workers – excluding truckers – as a lead up to the in-depth background checks that will take place as part of the TWIC program.

The House port security bill calls for complete implementation of the TWIC program by November 2008, with a gradual rollout of cards leading up to that date.