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WMD, TWIC, port security bills approved by House Homeland Security Committee

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a slew of bills on May 9 that would bolster defenses against weapons of mass destruction attack, fund specialized incident response teams, examine gaps in port security and reform transportation worker ID cards.

The legislation moves on to the full House for consideration.

The committee unanimously passed, H.R. 2356, the “WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011,” introduced last year by Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), along with committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

 H.R. 2356, said a statement from the committee, implements many of the recommendations of the WMD Commission, co-chaired by former Sens. Bob Graham and Jim Talent.

For instance, the legislation would establish a special assistant to the president for biodefense to coordinate federal biodefense policy; develop a national biodefense plan and a coordinated budget that assess capability gaps and spending inefficiencies.

It would also require DHS to establish a national biosurveillance strategy, make first responder vaccinations voluntary and provide response guidance for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents. FEMA, for instance, would be tasked with development of a communications plan to provide public information about preventing, preparing for, and responding to a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attack. FEMA would also develop and disseminate integrated public alerts and warnings system pre-scripted messages and message templates to be provided to state, local, and tribal authorities to rapidly disseminate critical information to the public in the event of such an attack.

The measure would also authorize the Securing the Cities program to allow for interdiction of a radiological device in high-risk cities.

The committee also passed H.R. 3857, introduced by Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), that would activate Transportation Security Grant Program funding for specialized patrol teams, like the NYPD’s Transit Operational Response Canine Heavy Weapons (TORCH) team, in addition to creating new teams as is currently allowed.

“From 1997 to 2010, five out of the fifteen terrorist plots against public transportation were in New York,” said Rep. Turner, who noted increasingly sophisticated terror attacks aimed at transportation require specialized patrol teams with appropriate response capabililities.”

The committee also approved H.R. 4005, the “Gauging American Port Security Act,” introduced by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA). The measure would tap the Homeland Security Secretary to conduct a study and report to Congress on gaps in port security in the U.S. and a plan to address them.

H.R. 3173, introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), was also approved. It directs the DHS secretary Janet Napolitano to reform the process for the enrollment, activation, issuance, and renewal of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) by requiring an in-person visit to a designated enrollment center.