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Waiving Points Of Order Against Conference Report On H.R. 5441, Department Of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007; Providing For Consideration

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Location: Washington, DC


WAIVING POINTS OF ORDER AGAINST CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 5441, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007; PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF S. 3930, MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT OF 2006; PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 4772, PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS IMPLEMENTATION ACT OF 2006 -- (House of Representatives - September 29, 2006)

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Mr. SABO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding me time. Thank you for your great service on Rules Committee.

And to the chairman, I thank him for his kind remarks.

Mr. Speaker, I am a strong supporter of the base bill on homeland security funding. But there is one part of that bill which I think we could significantly improve. So I would ask Members today to vote against the previous question so that we can offer a separate concurrent resolution to the conference report which would delete from the bill four provisions as it relates to the regulation of chemical plants that, in my judgment, significantly weaken the legislation.

As background, the whole question of setting security standards for chemical plants is an issue that has concerned me for a long time. We have had a void in the ability of the Secretary to act to adopt any regulation as it impacts most chemical plants in this country.

This year, while we were considering the appropriations bill, we offered and adopted in committee an amendment that gave authority to the Secretary to adopt regulations relating to the security of chemical plants.

We envisioned that as being a temporary solution, while the authorizers had time at some point to pass regular authorizing legislation. That was stricken by a point of view on the House floor. In the Senate, fortunately, in an amendment by BOB BYRD, adopted that same amendment. And that is what we had in conference.

There then proceeded negotiations between the authorizers. And it ended up being a partisan negotiation between majority Members in the House and Senate which produced the recommended plan for the regulation of chemical plants, which the conference committee substituted for the Byrd amendment.

That more detailed recommendation has not been subject to debate in either the House or the Senate or considered in that form by any of our committees. And it has four provisions which I think significantly weakens the authority of the Secretary to adopt regulations. I think we should strike them.

The first one is a provision that states that: The Secretary may not disapprove a site security plan submitted under this section based on the presence or absence of a particular security measure.

What that means, I frankly do not know. The reality is that any security measure is going to deal with a whole series of particular security measures. Some are going to be more important than the other. Why we limit the authority of the Secretary in this fashion is beyond me. I do not know what it means. There must be some relevance to it. But it clearly would seem to limit the ability of the Secretary to adopt a comprehensive security measure.

Then we have another provision which is rather strange. And it says that if we proceed in court and any information is provided on plants to that court, then that unclassified information becomes classified when it reaches the courtroom. I know of no other instance in our government where unclassified information becomes classified because it goes to court.

I have no idea what the precedent for any such action is. It is unique. It is new. And we should not have it in this bill. I do not know, as I read this bill, whether the States have the ability to adopt security standards which are stricter than the Federal law. Some read this language to say it prohibits the States from having stricter standards.

I read it as being unclear, and where we turn that issue over is not to our judgment but to the courts. As I read the language, if a State adopts stricter standards and the Secretary approves them, I expect it will be challenged in court. If they adopt stricter standards and the Secretary rejects them, that will be challenged in court.

In my judgment, the States should have that ability. But whether we think they should or should not have it, it is a decision we should make and not simply leave it to the vagaries of what a particular court might decide.

Another provision in this bill simply says that it prohibits the public from filing any suit to enforce the provisions of this law. Again, that makes no sense to me and goes contrary to what we normally do in this country.

I am glad we are finally moving forward with chemical plant security. However, the negotiations, not by the conferees on the appropriation bill but by the negotiators from the two authorizing committees, have produced a version of chemical security regulation that in my judgment is much weaker than it need be, and we should clarify it and strike those provisions. Not add anything new, but simply make sure that the Secretary has greater authority and to make sure that States have the right to adopt stricter regulation if they so desire.

So I urge the rejection of the previous question so that we can offer such an amendment.

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