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U.S. House passes Rice-backed TSA improvement bill

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a member of the House

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, attends a field hearing at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

WASHINGTON - Legislation to strengthen and streamline airport access control measures co-sponsored by Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (R-Garden City) passed in a bipartisan voice vote in the U.S. House on Tuesday evening.

It is one in a series of bills that Katko and Rice, both New Yorkers and former prosecutors, wrote and ushered through the House as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House subcommittee on transportation security.

They introduced the bill that passed Tuesday after authorities earlier this year discovered that airport and airline employees were using their security passes to avoid TSA checkpoints to illegally take guns and drugs onto airplanes.

In one case, authorities broke up a gun-smuggling ring operating between Atlanta and New York City. A Delta Air Lines employee used his security pass at least 17 times to avoid a TSA checkpoint so he could deliver a bag full of guns to a go-between, who would fly them to New York for sale on city streets.

The bill requires a new risk-based, intelligence-driven process for more frequent, randomized security screenings for airport and airline employees, and also shrinks the number of employee entry and exit points, according to Rice spokesman Coleman Lamb.

It also directs the TSA to tighten its vetting the criminal records of airport and airline workers in secure areas, Lamb said in a statement.

Rice and Katko are working with the Senate to attach the measure to other legislation to enact it.

Last Friday, President Barack Obama signed another Katko and Rice TSA improvement bill, which served as a vehicle to extend funding for the federal government through Dec. 11.

That new law requires TSA's investigators to spend at least half of their work time on criminal cases in order to be classified as law enforcement personnel. An internal review found TSA couldn't verify the investigators who were qualified for those posts, and that misclassifying them could cost up to $17 million over a five-year period.

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