Sunday, May 23, 2010
HR 5346 Introduction
On Wednesday Rep. Thompson (D, MS), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced HR 5346, billed as a bill to enhance the homeland security in the ports and waterways of the US. This bill is essentially Title XI, Port Security, of HR 3619 as it was passed in the House last October. HR 3619 and Politics As I noted earlier this month, the version of HR 3619 that was passed by the Senate was substantially different than the House version; one difference was that the Senate version did not include Title XI. The Conference Committee for this bill has yet to be appointed so it is a little surprising that Chairman Thompson is apparently assuming that Title XI will not be added back to the bill in Conference. It also begs the question that, if Title XI would not be acceptable to the Senate Conferees, how much of a chance will this bill have of being considered in the Senate in the limited amount of time left in the election shortened session. There is another interesting political oddity about HR 5346. HR 3619 was not acted upon by the Homeland Security Committee. It was introduced by Chairman Oberstar of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Report on that bill only included actions by his Committee. One would have thought that it would have been Chairman Oberstar that would have introduced this bill, or at least co-sponsored it. Now I understand that Title XI of HR 3619 does specifically address port security issues and one would think that this would come under the purview of the Homeland Security Committee. This is one of the continuing problems that homeland security issues have in Congress, there are too many committees with their fingers in the homeland security pie. Politically speaking there is another possible explanation for the introduction of this bill. Chairman Thompson might be planning on getting this passed in the House (which could happen fairly quickly since it has essentially already been considered). Instead of trying to get it through the Senate he could be intending on getting it included in the DHS Budget bill (that has yet to be introduced). This is a technique that he has used for a number of pieces of legislation since he became Chairman in 2007. Chemical Security Provisions In my initial blog about HR 3619 I noted that there were a limited number of provisions in that bill that would directly affect the chemical security community. Interestingly all of those provisions were included in Title XI and made it into this bill. There was one significant change to Title XI provisions since I wrote that initial blog that will be of interest. The provisions related to the definition of ‘Especially Hazardous Materials’ were removed. Actually that term was changed to ‘certain dangerous cargo’ and a specific reference to any chemicals was not included in the definition of that term. It now leaves that definition up to regulations to be written by the Commandant. There was one other provision in HR 3619 as passed by the House that I noted in a later blog as being of potential concern to our community. That provision (§ 1332) dealt with Coast Guard actions against semi-submersible vessels used by drug traffickers. That provision was not included in this legislation. Moving Forward This bill should be able to make it through the two committees, Homeland Security and Transportation, that it has been referred to in the House. There should be no major opposition to the bill if/when it makes it to the House floor. The major question is how likely it is to get considered in the Senate. There is very little that looks the least bit controversial to me, but there is some reason that Chairman Thompson thinks that this will not be acceptable to the Senate conferees; so I don’t know.