Authorization and chemical security bills top panel agendas

Top aides on the House and Senate Homeland Security committees Friday revealed plans for moving a Homeland Security authorization bill and legislation regulating security at the nation's chemical facilities, while acknowledging some potential obstacles ahead.

The aides, speaking at a forum hosted by the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, cited jurisdictional battles between congressional committees that have hampered efforts to pass homeland security legislation. But the House Homeland Security Committee plans to mark up legislation by the end of May that regulates security at facilities across the country that store or process dangerous chemicals, said I. Lanier Avant, majority staff director for the panel. He said the committee has been negotiating with the House Energy and Commerce Committee in an effort to develop a single bill that both panels could mark up.

It appears the goal of both panels is to avoid a public turf battle. The bill would essentially reauthorize the authority that Congress gave the Homeland Security Department in 2006 to regulate security at chemical facilities. But Avant said the issue of requiring chemical facilities to use so-called "inherently safer technologies" is on the table. In the past, the chemical industry has resisted such a requirement, arguing that it is unnecessary and would be too costly.

"We hear on too many issues that something is not feasible or not possible and that's just small-mindedness, to be quite honest," Lanier said in an interview later.

He said the chemical security legislation should be taken up by his panel between Easter and the Memorial Day congressional recess.

But first the House committee plans to mark up the Homeland Security authorization bill. Avant said the panel plans to make the bill as comprehensive as possible. "Right now we see an agency that for too long has been fractured," he said. "We can't afford to have that continue to be the case."

Michael Alexander, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's majority staff director, said his panel "will make a maximum effort" to complete an authorization bill this year.

But the bill could become a magnet for controversial immigration-related provisions when it is brought to the Senate floor, said Brandon Milhorn, the panel's minority staff director. He expressed concern the bill will get bogged down over immigration debate unless Senate leaders show the will to get it passed.

On another front, the aides indicated they do not see any signs that funding for politically popular homeland security grant programs for state and local governments will be reduced in the upcoming budget battles.

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