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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Lawmakers Criticize New Baggage Screening

January 18, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two leading House Democrats say the Transportation Department's plan for tougher airline baggage inspections, scheduled to begin today, falls short of what a post-Sept. 11 law requires.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and James Oberstar of Minnesota, top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, objected to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta's announcement Wednesday that airlines would meet the congressionally ordered deadline in many cases by refusing to load luggage unless the passenger also boards.

"This decision amounts to a narrow interpretation of the statute and flouts the intent of a law designed to fundamentally change the air safety rules of our country," Gephardt said. "I'm afraid the secretary's announcement is little more than a perpetuation of the status quo."

The two lawmakers said the law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in November requires bags to be screened for explosives. But only some luggage will be checked with explosives detection machines, bomb-sniffing dogs, hand searches by security agents, or hand-held equipment that detects traces of explosives.

As an alternative to actual inspections, airlines can use a passenger-bag match--a strategy in which no bag will be loaded on an originating flight unless the passenger also boards. But if a passenger connects to a different plane, the airline does not have make sure he or she boards the second time before loading the luggage.

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