A House panel approved draft legislation Thursday that would require the Homeland Security secretary to establish regulations for rail and mass transit security within a year of its enactment.
By voice vote, the Homeland Security panel's Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee approved the measure, which would authorize more than $5.1 billion for the next four years for rail, mass transit and bus security.
Under the draft bill, "high-risk" and "medium-risk" transit systems would have to submit vulnerability assessments and security plans to the Homeland Security 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; for mass transit, $3.7 billion; and for buses, $87 million.
"Rail and public transportation security remains secondary to aviation. . . . Do we truly believe that it is acceptable to spend approximately one penny on rail security compared to $9 spent on air security?" asked subcommittee Chairwoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.
The panel adopted several amendments, including one by Democrat Yvette D. Clarke of New York., that would require labor organizations to provide security training for rail and mass transit workers. Clarke's amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The subcommittee also adopted, by voice vote, an amendment by the ranking Republican, Dan Lungren of California, that would authorize the creation of Visible Intermodal Protection Response teams within the Transportation Security Administration. The teams would respond to any kind of transportation security threat, including air and rail threats.
The subcommittee rejected, on a 4-4 tie, an amendment by Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., that would have protected sensitive security information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lungren offered and later withdrew an amendment on trucker security. It would have provided that truck drivers barred from transporting security-sensitive materials could not be prevented from transporting hazardous materials.
Jackson-Lee said Lungren's amendment "made a valid point" and agreed to work with him on the measure.
An amendment by Jackson-Lee, adopted by voice vote, would raise the administrative penalty for noncompliance in the measure from $75,000 to $100,000.
Lawmakers rejected, 3-5, a Lungren amendment that would have replaced the whistleblower protection provisions in the bill with language from another, broader bill (HR 985) that would strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees and employees of federal contractors. That measure, sponsored by California Democrat Henry A. Waxman, was approved last month by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Waxman chairs.
A House-passed bill (HR 1) that would implement a number of recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission does not contain rail and mass transit security language. So the draft bill approved Thursday would give negotiators their own language for a House-Senate conference if the Senate passes the Sept. 11 omnibus (S 4) currently being debated on the floor. The Senate bill would authorize $1.1 billion from fiscal 2008 to 2011 to safeguard people and cargo aboard rail and other surface transportation vehicles.
The full committee plans to take up the draft bill March 6.