- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Congress yesterday sent President Bush legislation that heightens airport and seaport security and includes a “John Doe” provision to protect airline passengers from retaliatory lawsuits for reporting potential terror activity.

The measure that implements the remaining major September 11 commission recommendations passed the House yesterday 371-40. It had cleared the Senate 85-8 late Thursday night.

“It was our highest priority to make the American people safer and we passed it on our first day in our first legislative act,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“With this bill we will be keeping our promise to the families of 911 victims,” she said.

The homeland security bill requires 100 percent inspection of air cargo and maritime cargo within three years, and changes the formula for the distribution of grant money to ensure high-risk areas such as New York and Washington get a larger share of funding.

The White House said the president would sign the bill.

The John Doe provision was introduced by lawmakers in response to a suit filed by a group of Muslim imams who were removed from a November flight after the flight crew and passengers reported the men were behaving suspiciously.

The suspicious activity, first reported by The Washington Times, included changing seats, the pattern of their seating, moving about the cabin before takeoff, criticizing the Bush administration and the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and asking for seat-belt extensions that flight attendants said were not needed.

“Last November, six imams who behaved in methods similar to those September 11 terrorists were reported to authorities,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican and author of the original provision. “Now they are using our courts to terrorize the Americans who reported their behavior.”

“If we are serious about fighting terrorism, if we are serious about protecting Americans and asking them to help protect each other, then we needed to pass this provision,” Mr. Pearce said.

Both Democrats and Republicans declared the bill’s passage a victory for their party.

“This bill will make America more secure,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, said the bill “ensures the flying public is safe and protected.”

The Republican-drafted John Doe protections “are a huge win for our conference and, more importantly, for the safety and security of the American people,” said House Republican Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

“I’m pleased Democratic leaders have finally agreed with us.”

The John Doe provision is the first Republican-backed amendment to become law since Democrats claimed the majority this year.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, led the effort, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, to include the language after it was blocked by Democrats last week.

“The product today, while not perfect, is a another step in the right direction,” said Mr. King, who noted that Republicans passed the majority of the security reforms, including intelligence reforms, over the past five years.

The bill includes $4 billion for rail, transit and bus security and $1.6 billion in funding for interoperability communications. It also strengthens security measures for the Visa Waiver Program.

The bill removes a cap on the number of airport screeners and authorizes $700 million for checkpoint and baggage screening.

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