WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Wednesday announced a deal between Senate and House negotiators on legislation that completes implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations and strengthens the safety of all Americans against terrorist attacks and catastrophic disasters.
“When signed into law by the President – and I urge him to do so as soon as Congress sends it to him – this bill will complete the initial phase of securing all Americans from terrorist attack, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission,” Lieberman said. “The bill will make it more difficult for terrorists to enter and operate in the United States. It will secure vulnerable targets from attack and help train and equip first responders and preventers to do the job we need them to do. And, it will make it more difficult to sue people who, in good faith, report suspicious activity that they think might be related to terrorism in and around airplanes, trains, and buses.”
Thompson said: “This Congress has answered the nation’s call for a safer and more secure America. Passage of this vital legislation will rightly honor the men, women and children who lost their lives on September 11th, as well as all our nation. We have succeeded in filling the many gaps that have plagued our security infrastructure since that fateful day. I applaud the bicameral bipartisan cooperation that was necessary to get this bill done right.”
The conference report must be signed by a majority of conferees from each chamber and will then be sent to the Senate and House floors for final passage.
Key provisions of the bill include:
· Greater distribution of homeland security grants for states and high-risk urban areas based on risk of terrorism, while still ensuring that all states have funds available for basic preparedness. Each state is guaranteed a minimum of .375 percent of funds in FY 2008 to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, scaling down to a minimum of 0.35% in 2012.
· $1.8 billion authorization for FY 2008 to assist states and high-risk urban areas in preparing for terrorist threats; $400 million authorization for Emergency Management Performance Grants to assist states in preparing for all-hazards, and $400 million annually beginning in FY09 for interoperable emergency communications – all as part of an overall effort to ensure that all states have basic capabilities to prepare for and respond to both man-made and natural disasters.
· A dedicated interoperability grant program to improve interoperability at local, state, and federal levels.
· More than $4 billion over four years for rail, transit, and bus security grants.
· $250 million annually for airport checkpoint screening, $450 million annually for baggage screening, and $50 million annually for the next four years for aviation security R&D.
· 100 percent screening within five years of maritime cargo before it’s loaded on ships in foreign ports bound for the U.S. Secretary of Department of Homeland Security may extend deadline by two-year increments.
· Screening of all cargo carried on passenger airplanes within three years.
· Protection from lawsuits for people who in good faith report what they believe is terrorist activity in and around airplanes, trains, and buses.
· Stronger security measures for Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from select countries to visit the U.S. without a visa, through creation of a new Electronic Travel Authorization system and improved reporting of lost and stolen passports.
· President to publicly disclose the total amount appropriated for the intelligence community. After the next two fiscal years the President may waive the disclosure requirement only if it would harm national security.
Click here for a summary of the conference report.