Archive for Friday, October 12, 2001

Senate votes to broaden police, airport authority

October 12, 2001

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— The Senate voted Thursday to give police broad new wiretapping authority and other tools to pursue suspected terrorists and to increase and federalize security on airliners and at airports.

Hours after unanimously passing a bill to overhaul protections against terrorism in aviation, the Senate approved a compromise bill negotiated with Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft authorizing the use of roaming wiretaps and new subpoena powers against suspected terrorists.

The Bush administration had urgently pressed for the two measures as a response to the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks in New York and Washington. But both had been stalled for two weeks, the anti-terrorism bill over civil liberty concerns and the aviation security bill over efforts to add aid for laid-off airline workers and money for Amtrak.

The Senate passed the anti-terrorism legislation 96-1. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the only dissenting vote.

Feingold had failed in a last-ditch effort to tone down parts of the bill's police powers, and grew angry that the bill, which came straight to the floor, was moving so fast. "What have we come to when we don't have either committee or Senate deliberation or amendments on an issue of this importance?" he said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who negotiated with Senate Republicans and the administration to come up with the final version of the bill, conceded that the legislation "is really not the bill that any of the 100 here would have written, but we can't pass 100 bills."

"What we have done is put together the best bill possible," he said.

The House is expected to take up its version of the bill today.

Both the House and Senate measures would expand the FBI's wiretapping authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishment for terrorists.

But unlike the House anti-terrorism bill, the Senate measure has no expiration date on the new police powers and also includes money-laundering legislation requested by the White House.

The aviation security bill calls for more air marshals, the fortifying of cockpit doors, anti-hijacking training for flight crews and a fee on passengers to pay for the changes.

It also would put all 28,000 airport security personnel on the federal payroll.

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