Senate lawmakers Thursday advanced language aimed at boosting security at airports and other transportation hubs, by attaching it to a bill that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.
Senators voted 85-10 to pass an amendment sponsored by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Bill Nelson, R-Fla., that would increase the background vetting of airport workers, and add to the list of criminal convictions that would disqualify people from working in secure areas at airports.
Lawmakers also voted to bolster security at airports, bus and rail stations as well as so-called soft target areas, which include airport check-in and baggage claim areas. That amendment, sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., would create additional Transportation Security Administration officers to "provide a visible deterrent to terrorist threats," as well as bomb-sniffing dogs, Heinrich said.
The amendment, which passed 91-5, would also increase TSA training to respond to "active shooter" scenarios, but it does not increase TSA funding.
Lawmakers in both parties scrambled to add security features to the FAA bill in the wake of the recent terrorist attack at the airport in Brussels and the crash last year of a Russian jet departing the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
"As we work to address concerns about an insider threat scenario, criminals who have broken laws are a good place to start," said Thune, who is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "Ensuring that airport workers with security credentials are a trustworthy is especially important considering [the Islamic State] in October killed 224 on a Russian jet leaving Egypt. Many experts believe this attack had help from an aviation employee."
Senate debate on the FAA bill will continue Thursday as lawmakers struggle to resolve a disagreement over whether to add unrelated amendments that would provide green energy tax breaks that Democrats say were inadvertently left out of a tax cut bill last year.