Lieberman Seeks to Strike Republican Special-Interest Provisions Added to Homeland Security Act Last Year

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., introduced legislation Tuesday to strike seven special-interest provisions attached by Republicans to the homeland security bill before it was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush last year.

The provisions, some of which Republican leaders promised to revisit, include a controversial protection from legal liability for the makers of childhood vaccines, including those that contain a mercury-based preservative that many parents believe caused their children’s autism. Lieberman and then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., unsuccessfully offered an amendment during homeland security debate last November to strike these provisions.

“In the final stages of passing the bill, the Republican leadership inserted several special interest measures that had no place in this bill,” Lieberman said. “The method by and spirit in which these provisions found their way into the bill was utterly objectionable. By attaching them to what should have been a common cause, the Republican leadership all but admitted that the provisions could not withstand independent scrutiny. “These flaws are real. They are serious. And they are unnecessary. I hope this bill will be considered swiftly in order to right these wrongs.” Lieberman’s legislation would strike:

  • A Childhood Vaccine Liability Shield The Act takes complaints about vaccine additives out of the courts and requires them to be made through the Federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The provisions are retroactive, which means existing lawsuits would be interrupted – including claims involving the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, which some have charged is linked to autism in children.
  • Offshore Companies The Act allows companies that shift their headquarters offshore as a tax avoidance scheme to do business with the federal government to prevent the loss of U.S. jobs, or to prevent the government from incurring costs that otherwise would not occur. This would essentially allow the government to do business with any corporation that organizes overseas to escape paying American taxes because that company will probably have lower overhead and be able to offer its goods or services to the government at a lower cost than its competitors.
  • Transportation Security Regulations The Act requires the Transportation Security Oversight Board to ratify within 90 days emergency security regulations issued by the Transportation Security Agency. If the oversight board does not ratify the regulations, they automatically lapse. This is contrary to new procedures that the Senate passed in the aviation security bill, which allow for regulations to go into effect unless they are affirmatively disapproved by the Board.
  • Airport Screening Company Immunity The Act extends liability protection to companies that provided passenger and baggage screening in airports on September 11th. The Senate decided against extending this liability protection on at least two separate occasions.
  • SAFETY Act The Act gives the new department secretary broad authority to designate certain technologies as “qualified anti-terrorism technologies.” This entitles companies selling that technology to broad liability protection from any claim arising out of, relating to, or resulting from an act of terrorism, no matter how negligently the company acted.
  • Federal Advisory Committee Act The Act allows the Secretary to exempt the new department?s advisory committees from the open meetings requirements and other requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Agencies throughout government make use of advisory committees that function under these open meetings requirements. Existing law is careful to protect discussions and documents that involve sensitive information. In fact, the FACA law currently applies successfully to the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the secretive National Security Agency.
  • Texas A&M The Act creates a university-based homeland security research center. Based on the 15 criteria outlined in the bill, the research center is described so narrowly that it appears Texas A&M University has the inside track to get the funding and house the center. Science in this country has thrived through peer review and competition over the best proposals. This provision violates those principles.
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