homeland security bills 2007

Bill in Brief

As part of their 2006 campaign, Democrats promised to catch Congress up to speed with all the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. In fairness to Republicans, Congress didn't exactly sit still on security issues before 2007; Dems, however, claim they didn't go far enough.

The House passed a batch of reforms as part of its 100-hour agenda, H.R.1. The Senate followed suit with its version of reforms - S.4 - in March. Both chambers finally got their act together and passed a joint "conference" bill in July.

The bill sprawls over countless security issues (that is to say, we haven't counted them).

What made it in to the final bill

  • State and local grants: In the House bill, Homeland Security reworked its funding formula to shift more state and local grants to high risk areas. Instead of guaranteeing states 0.75% of grant money, each state would get at least 0.25% (or 0.45% if they meet basic "high risk" criteria), with the rest of funding being divvied up solely by risk. The Senate bill set a base of 0.45% for all states. The final bill, according to the dailies, cuts base funding in half (WP).

  • Communication: The House set up a program would to help states and localities pay for communication systems that can talk to each other (solving a problem that tripped up response teams after Katrina). That provision ended up in the final bill at a cost of $3.3 billion (NYT).

  • Cargo security: In the House bill, all cargo on passenger airlines had to be inspected by 2010 and all containers coming to the US would have to be scanned by 2012 (unless "the department granted an extension"). The Senate bill didn't require all sea cargo be scanned or that all air cargo be physically inspected. The final bill opts for all cargo on passenger airlines be "screened" not inspected by 2010. It also requires that all sea cargo be screened at foreign ports by 2012, but gives the president the power to delay that deadline by two years (WP).

  • An open budget. The final bill declassifies intelligence spending - but allows the president to classify it again after two years (WP).

  • If you see something - you won't get sued for saying something. The final bill adds protections against "frivolous law suits" for those who do something about suspicious behavior (NYT).

What we're not quite sure about

  • Reporting and info-sharing: The House would require the Department of Homeland Security be put on a strict reporting schedule and would have to improve information sharing with localities. cJ doesn't know if that made it into the final bill.

  • Tracking visitors: Under the House bill, Homeland Security would create a plan to speed up US-VISIT, the stalled program that aims to track everyone who comes in and leaves the US. Also don't know if this made it in.

  • WMD: The House would create an Office of the US Coordinator for the Prevention of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (as well as a commission) to, well, prevent WMD proliferation. Ditto - don't know if it got into the final bill.

  • Aid and diplomacy: The House bill also requires the administration to step up aid and diplomacy efforts.

  • Illegal immigration: The Senate may give state agencies the abililty to enforce immigration laws and let the feds check on the immigration status of workers.

  • Hoaxters: Senators may add on stiffer penalties for terrorist hoaxters, like the guerilla marketers in Boston.

  • Nuclear security: Lawmakers may also try on a bill forcing new nuclear power plants to assure they could withstand a plane crashing into them.

What didn't get in:

  • At least one suggestion from the 9/11 panel won't be followed. While the commission recommended the House and Senate rearrange their committees - to give the same committees the power to authorize and appropriate intelligence spending, giving them serious oversight powers - neither the House or Senate seems to want to go that far. (WP)

  • Habeas Corpus: Some senators tried to add an amendment giving enemy combatants the right to challenge their detention in court (a right known as habeas corpus) - but it looks like that provision got left out of the final bill.

  • Unionized screeners: The Senate and House both opted to give airport screeners the right to collectively bargain (but not until after security hawks put up a fight in the Senate). (AP) But under veto threat from the president, Congress took back the right before a final vote.

Costs: The House bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would cost an extra $21 billion over five years.

Chemical plant security

On a separate track - as part of a war funding bill - Congress may also give states the power to write stricter security regulations for chemical plants, even when those regs conflict with federal regs.

Updated July 29, 2007

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

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