Friday, October 12, 2001

Senate OKs aviation security bill


Baggage screeners would be trained federal employees

By Derrick Depledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously voted Thursday to place aviation security under federal control and assign marshals to most domestic flights in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings.

        Passenger and baggage screeners would be trained federal employees instead of the low-paid and often inexperienced private workers who now monitor passenger flow at airports. The legislation also would require airlines to strengthen cockpit doors, train flight crews in identifying possible attackers and allow pilots to carry guns under certain circumstances. Passengers would be charged an extra $2.50 on each trip to help pay for the tougher security.

        “This legislation will not only improve safety at our nation's airports but will help restore the confidence of the flying public,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had called for a greater federal role in aviation security.

        The House soon will consider its own version, and many Republican leaders are opposed to making passenger and baggage screeners federal employees. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has proposed giving the federal government management and oversight authority but keeping most of the workers private employees.

        The Bush administration also has been reluctant for a total federal takeover but wants Congress to act quickly to ease public fears about aviation safety. Conservatives such as Mr. McConnell and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, voted for the bill even though they do not think all screeners should be federal workers.

        Senate Democrats were disappointed that Republicans blocked an effort to provide $1.9 billion in unemployment insurance, health care and job training to the 140,000 workers laid off in the aviation industry.

        Many Democrats grumbled that Congress immediately approved $40 billion in emergency spending and a $15 billion bailout for the airlines but — a month after the attacks — still had not decided whether to help displaced workers. Democrats fell shy of the 60 votes necessary to overcome Republican opposition.

        “This is the first time we've said "no' to any of the victims of the disaster one month ago,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who promised to find another way to help aviation workers.

        Hundreds of aviation workers in Greater Cincinnati are threatened with layoffs because of the economic downturn in the industry. Delta Air Lines, which operates its second-largest hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, announced it would lay off 13,000 workers, including as many as 825 in the region. GE Aircraft Engines has predicted it could lay off 4,000 workers, including up to 800 at its plant in Evendale.

        The layoffs, as well as a decline in passenger traffic at the airport, could influence service, hospitality and transportation jobs across the region's economy.

        Senate Republicans argued that the worker-aid package was unrelated to aviation security, too narrowly tailored to a specific group of workers and potentially burdensome on the federal government.

        Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, believed it was unfair to help only aviation workers when workers from other industries also have suffered losses since the attacks. He said the government should first concentrate on security.

        “It's clear we've got gaps in airport and airline security that must be filled, so let's get moving and fix the problem,” he said. “Most economists agree that one of the best things we can do to get the economy off the ground is to get our airlines into the air.”

        Mr. Voinovich and Mr. DeWine joined Mr. McConnell; Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.; and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in opposing the worker-aid package. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., voted to move ahead with debate on the issue.

       



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