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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Commerce Panel Clears Four Cantwell-Backed Bills to Improve Safety and Security of Washingtonians

Legislation will improve emergency communications, boost transportation security, help prepare public safety agencies for 2010 Vancouver Olympics

Tuesday, February 13,2007


WASHINGTON, DC - Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee approved four key homeland security and transportation safety bills backed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Together, these four pieces of legislation will improve communication among public safety agencies, enhance 911 services, strengthen pipeline safety, and boost security on trains, trucks, busses, and airplanes. The Committee also approved an amendment sponsored by Cantwell to push the federal government toward resolving long-standing public safety communications issues between the U.S. and Canada in advance of the 2010 Olympics.

"Our experiences following 9/11 and Katrina made clear that helping first responders communicate more effectively is absolutely essential," said Cantwell, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. "We need to make sure our first responders in Washington state and across the country have the tools and technology needed to communicate with one another and get the job done in every emergency. Today, we took several critical steps to ensure better communication among emergency services providers, and to make our trains, trucks, and airplanes more secure." Details on each of the four bills approved Tuesday by the Commerce Committee follow below:

- The Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act will improve the safety and security of passenger and freight rail, as well as gas pipelines, trucks carrying hazardous materials, and intercity busses. The legislation directs the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a risk assessment of freight and passenger rail and submit to Congress prioritized recommendations for improving security. It also authorizes grant programs to bolster security on Amtrak and freight railroads, and upgrade security across the entire freight and intercity passenger railroad system. In addition, it authorizes a grant program to improve gas pipeline inspection, hazmat truck tracking, inspection of hazmat trucks, and enforcement of hazmat regulations.

- The Aviation Security Improvement Act will implement the three primary aviation security recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, including a requirement that the Transportation Security Administration develop a system to screen all cargo transported on passenger airlines. The other two recommendations involve improving airline screening checkpoints to detect explosives, and improving airline passenger pre-screening.

- The Interoperable Emergency Communications Act provides the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—a bureau within the Department of Commerce—with clearer directions on how to use its $1 billion trust fund to improve communication among public safety personnel. The fund was originally created in 2005, with all $1 billion to be awarded by September 30, 2007 through a federal grant program. The Interoperable Emergency Communications Act, as introduced, was originally oriented toward hardware purchases. Cantwell was able to add several amendments Tuesday making it clear that solutions for interoperable communications should include software, hardware, systems, and IP-based solutions, as well as other technologies. Washington state is using a combination of technologies to attain interoperable communications, including Radio over Internet Protocol (RoIP). The Committee also approved a Cantwell amendment to make sure public safety agencies in Washington are prepared for the 2010 Olympics by requiring the administration to report to Congress on the status of two outstanding public safety spectrum issues with Canada that require revisions to existing treaties.

- The 911 Modernization Act will allow NTIA to jumpstart a program to make sure all communities have access to basic 911 services, and give more communities access to location-based E-911 services, which allow cell phones to be used effectively for 911 calls. The bill would allow NTIA to begin the program this year by permitting the agency to borrow from the Treasury to fund the initiative, and pay off the debt using proceeds from a 2008 spectrum auction.