Monday, December 20, 2010

Senate Chemical Security Committee Reports

There have been a number of pieces of legislation in the 111th Congress that have been of some potential concern to the chemical security community that have stalled in the Senate after the appropriate committee ordered the bill to be reported favorably. After months of seeming inactivity, the following such bills were reported last week:
• HR 2868 – Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009
• S 773 – Cybersecurity Act of 2009
• S 1274 – A bill to amend title 46, United States Code, to ensure that the prohibition on disclosure of maritime transportation security information is not used inappropriately to shield certain other information from public disclosure, and for other purposes.
• S 1649 – Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act
• S 3480 – Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010
Amendment in form of Substitute

Each of these bills was passed in committee with bipartisan support. They were also amended with a significant re-write of the wording of the legislation in what is called an “amendment in the form of a substitute”. In each case there was no public record of the final form of that proposed legislative wording; that public disclosure is typically made in the report the committee files on the bill. That report also contains a detailed explanation of what the committee expects that legislation to accomplish; what is known as ‘congressional intent’.

In the three bills reported by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HR 2868, S 1649, and S 3480), the bills were reported with a Senate Report number provided, though as of this morning, there is no copy of that report available through the Government Printing Office. The two remaining bills (S 773 and S 1274) were reported by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee without a written report. In other words, starting the final week of the 111th Congress, we still don’t know what the final amended versions of these bills looks like.

No Further Action Expected

While each of these bills passed in committee with bipartisan support, they were controversial enough in their provisions to have garnered significant opposition; enough opposition that, in all but one case, there was little chance of the bill actually making it to a floor vote in the Senate. This was part of the reason for the delay in the reports being filed; there were significant behind the scenes negotiations being made to find accommodations that could be made to allow the bills to be passed.

The exception in this list is S 1274. This bill, as long time readers will remember, was introduced by Senators Rockefeller and Byrd, both from West Virginia. It was introduced in reaction to the disclosed efforts made by Bayer CropScience to hide information about a fatal chemical accident at their Institute, WV from the Chemical Safety Board by declaring the information to be protected from disclosure by the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). Wording effectively similar to this bill was successfully included in the FY 2010 DHS appropriations bill.

At this late date, no further action is expected on any of these bills. The filing of these reports just officially closes out the committee action on these bills. The Homeland Security Committee reports will eventually be printed by the GPO to become part of the historical record. When the Senate adjourns for the last time later this week, any future action on these legislative efforts will have to start all over again in the 112th Congress, and most of them will probably re-appear in early 2011.

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