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Boro leaders demand feds at airports

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A group of mostly Queens congressional members has called for a vote on legislation to federalize airport luggage inspectors, with one lawmaker accusing Republican leaders of delays he said risked air travelers’ lives.

One Queens delegate said carry-on luggage screening was so lax that he managed to board a plane while carrying ammunition and knives.

“We keep hearing that this is not the time for finger-pointing,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), whose district includes the site of the former World Trade Center.

“But I disagree in this case,” he told a news conference Friday at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport. “I point to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Tom Delay (R-Texas) and Dick Armey (R-Texas) for holding up this vote.”

"The House Republican leadership puts the lives of millions of Americans at risk by opposing federalization of airport security on the ideological grounds that we should not increase federal employment,” Nadler said.

Nadler, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), U.S. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) and U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), and representatives of the air controllers and flight attendants unions gathered at LaGuardia to demand passage of the measure.

“The Republicans offer opposition on the political grounds that 25,000 to 30,000 new federal employees might join a union and vote Democratic,” Nadler said. “To prevent these horrors, they are willing to risk the lives of all of us. For shame! They should realize these are shameful considerations in a time of war.”

The airport security bill passed unanimously by the Senate would require all checked luggage to be X-rayed with the Republican version requiring that only some bags be X-rayed. The GOP bill, rather than making bag screeners federal employees, would provide that such workers remain under private companies but specify they are to undergo more intense and higher quality training.

“It took only three days after the attack on the World Trade Center for Congress to vote $15 billion for the airlines bailout,” Lowey said. “This measure to make us feel safer would cost only $1.8 billion. Who would not pay a $2.50 ticket surcharge to pay for this security?”

“Yet despite the overwhelming support of 82 percent of Americans for this policy, the House Republican leadership refuses even to schedule a vote on the bill,” Lowey said.

“There exists an unbelievable inconsistency among airlines on security,” said Ackerman, who said he carried both knives and .22 caliber bullets on board without challenge from inspectors.

“The Senate passed a bill similar to the Democratic measure we want passed by a 100 to nothing vote,” said Weiner. “So what is holding up a vote now? The answer is politics, politics and more politics.”

Crowley, whose congressional district includes LaGuardia, said “it is high time the federal government takes over responsibility for aviation security.”

The federal General Accounting Office recently reported that carry-on luggage screeners are paid $5.25 to $6.25 per hour with turnover rates of 100 to 400 percent a year.

Greg Davidowitch, president of Local Executive Council 5 of the Association of Flight Attendants, and Leslie Warfield of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, also spoke on behalf of federalizing airport security employees.

Democrats contend one advantage of a federal takeover of the baggage screening function is those to be hired would be subject to an FBI background check.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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