Democrats push bioterrorism, aviation security bills

Democratic Office for the House Select Committee on Homeland Security

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House Democrats introduced two separate bills this past week, one to strengthen antibioterrorism initiatives and another to improve aviation security.

The Rapid Pathogen Identification to the Delivery of Cures Act, known as the RAPID Cures Act, and the Safe Passengers and Lading in Aviation for the National Enhancement of Security Act, called the Safe PLANES Act, would have the federal government utilize various technologies to improve safety and security.

The main thrust of the RAPID Cures Act is to shorten the time from identifying a pathogen to developing new treatments and vaccines.

The legislation was introduced at a press conference this week by Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) and delegate Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), both members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

The announcement comes a week after three top Bush administration officials announced a broad federal strategic plan that would combat potential bioterrorist threats more effectively.

"We need a Manhattan Project to help win the war on terror," said Turner in a press release. "It is time to turn science and technology to our advantage to defeat terrorism."

Turner's bill, which authorizes $10 million for fiscal 2005, also calls for a coordinated and integrated federal program to address research and development needs and use of biotechnology and information technology. It authorizes the secretaries at the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Defense to create a strategic plan that considers the use of advanced technologies, such as automation, computer modeling and simulation, bioinformatics, pharmacogenomics and bioengineering techniques for manufacturing, among other things.

It also instructs the HHS secretary to establish a system for the rapid development of clinical trial protocols during a crisis and transmit those results and recommendations to clinicians nationwide through a communications network.

Some provisions of the Safe PLANES Act, introduced by Turner and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) include:

Mandating full inspections of air cargo on passenger plans through equipment, technology and personnel.

Authorizing DHS to establish a database that contains names and other relevant information of all known shipping companies.

Providing flight attendants with a "discreet and wireless method of communicating with pilots" that should also be accessible to federal air marshals on a flight and other appropriate government officials.

The bill requires DHS officials to report on the status and technical maturity of various aviation security technologies and planned deployment and challenges. They also would report on anticipated costs for developing, testing, buying and installing the technologies. Such technologies include the detection of explosives, chemical, biological, radiological materials in baggage; improvement of resolution and readability of X-ray-based baggage screening systems; and integration of the threat imaging projection system into checked baggage detection systems, among others.

The bill also requires the department to report on the threat from shoulder-fired missiles, known as known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS.

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