Sunday, November 4, 2001

Put screening at nation’s
airports in federal hands

The issue: The House has narrowly
rejected a proposal to create a federal
work force for screening airplane
passengers and baggage.

WHILE an American Airlines terminal at New York's Kennedy International Airport was evacuated on Thursday because of slipshod screening of passengers, the House narrowly rejected a proposal that would have replaced those minimum-wage screeners with federal security officers. The vote was a temporary victory for low-bidding private security company lobbyists and a setback for a tourist industry that relies on traveler confidence in aviation security.

The bill should be repaired to conform with the Senate version when House and Senate conferees meet to reconcile differences before the legislation goes to the White House. Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie voted in favor of creating a 28,000-person federal work force to screen baggage, a proposal that was rejected, 218-214, but voted for the final House bill, which passed 286-139. President Bush, who opposes federalizing screening operations, has indicated he will sign an aviation security bill regardless of such a requirement.

The House GOP leadership made frenetic deals, including promised construction of federal highways, protection against liability claims stemming from the Sept. 11 attack and funds for concessionaires and parking lots, to coax various congressmen into voting against federalization. Two congressmen who play the guitar and trombone even agreed to support keeping screeners privately employed after helping the American Federation of Musicians add a provision allowing musical instruments as carry-on baggage, despite size restrictions.

Bush and Republican leaders argue that efficient security systems in Europe consist of private-federal partnerships, and that better pay, training and supervision would improve American standards to a similar level. However, the House bill lacks the health benefits, pension plans and promotion opportunities that have drawn capable employees to the European systems.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an author of the Senate bill, said he intends to insist that screeners be included in the country's federal security force. "Since the Senate bill passed with no dissension on a rare 100-to-0 vote," he said, "I expect my Senate colleagues to fight to restore those important security measures and give the American public the same level of safety that members of Congress insist on for themselves," alluding to the U.S. Capitol police.

Both the Senate and House bills are important in other respects, expanding the use of federal marshals on planes, securing cockpit doors and requiring background checks of workers with access to secure areas. All checked baggage would be screened for explosives by 2003 under the House bill, and that provision should be included in the final version.

Prompt action is needed to begin implementing plans to provide efficient and uniform security in American airports and in the airways. Those plans should not be compromised by partisan opposition to expanding federal payrolls where such expansion is to provide adequate law enforcement of needed security measures.

Free vacations will spread benefits

The issue: Governor Cayetano will present
Hawaii's gift to 1,200 World Trade
Center rescue workers.

The free vacations Hawaii plans to present to fire, police and rescue workers who helped in recovery efforts at the World Trade Center will no doubt go a long way toward aiding the suffering tourist industry here. Beyond economic self-interest, the visits are an opportunity for people in Hawaii to convey a message of appreciation to the men and women whose duties put them at ground zero of the terrorist attacks.

Governor Cayetano heads for New York City today where he will talk up Hawaii at an annual convention of 2,000 travel agents. The state could sure use a boost. The state Council of Revenues paints a dark economic picture for Hawaii, decreasing its estimates of personal income growth by $2.6 billion this year and next because of the drop in the number of tourists.

As he did when he went to Japan last month, the governor's message should include that state and local authorities have done a reasonably good job of assuring that Hawaii is safe. When Cayetano meets with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, bearing Hawaii's offer of free vacations for 1,200 rescue workers, he should emphasize that the idea for the getaways came from the people of Hawaii. In a Star-Bulletin letter to the editor Sept. 21, small businessman Gene Lancette suggested the vacations as a gesture of Hawaii's aloha. "It would be an excellent opportunity to show that we care," Lancette wrote. Apparently, many other Hawaii residents came up with the same idea, sending the proposal to Cayetano's Web site and bringing it up at community meetings called to find ways to help the economy.

Who came up with the notion first isn't important. What matters is that so many people wanted to extend a welcoming embrace across an ocean and a continent to the rescue workers. That feeling is still going strong. Gail Ann Chew of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau says individuals as well as businesses are pitching in to make sure the rescue workers have a good time in Hawaii. "This has become something that has little to do with tourism and the industry," Chew says. "A big portion of it is this feeling that people want to open their arms."

So this is all good. The vacations will provide respite to rescuers, the tourist industry will gain publicity and people in Hawaii, weathering tough times themselves, will have revived a flagging aloha spirit.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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