Senator blocks all aviation security legislation

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., said Thursday he had placed a hold on all aviation security legislation-but not only because he opposes expansion of Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

Fitzgerald also opposes any efforts by the airlines to recoup security costs they were forced to absorb in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as efforts to extend a baggage-screening deadline for some airports.

The airlines estimate these security costs at about $4 billion. They testified before Congress last month that they are not asking for a bailout, but merely some assistance.

Fitzgerald, however, disagrees. "They want $4 billion in operating expenses shifted to the taxpayers. That's a bailout," Fitzgerald said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told CongressDaily Wednesday she wants to help the aviation industry deal with the new security costs. She and Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., are trying to find a way to get an aviation bill to the Senate floor.

Other members of the Illinois delegation are trying to add the O'Hare expansion language to legislation. But a spokesman for Hollings said it would not be added to the aviation security bill because it would be outside the scope of a conference with the House.

The Senate Commerce Committee's version of an aviation security bill, which has provisions similar to those in a House aviation bill, would extend the deadline for some airports to screen baggage and extend war risk insurance.

Provisions being considered also would allow pilots to train with weapons, permit flight attendant security training, require locked cockpit doors and reauthorize the National Transportation Safety Board.

Also, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is keeping his hold on the aviation security bill in place because he still hopes to get an agreement to lift a ban on small planes carrying advertising banners over stadiums.

That prohibition has been in effect since last fall and would be extended for six months under Hollings' bill.

On another homeland security-related front, meetings between the White House, Senate and House aides over a seaport security bill are continuing.

Senate aides once again have scaled back their proposal to collect user fees on cargo, but many House Republicans continue to have concerns about the proposal's implications for trade.

However, Hollings is optimistic. "We're not giving up on any of this," said a Hollings aide.