The first would extend the deadline for up to 40 airports to miss a Dec. 31 deadline by up to a year to install equipment that would screen all passenger baggage. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, amended an earlier proposal that would only grant a six month extension.
``In California, Florida, Georgia, there are giong to be problems with the six month deadline,'' she said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the government should hold firm on the six month extension. ``The terrorists are not sitting around and saying we'll just wait to attack until they get it fixed,'' she said.
The second change to the aviation security act would allow people who are not U.S. citizens to become passenger screeners.
The House voted last month to extend the baggage screening deadline by a year. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said the House and the Senate may not have time this year to pass the entire bill even if they do reach an agreement.
James Loy, head of the newly created Transportation Security Administration, told Sen. Ernest Hollings' committee last week that engineering problems will cause as many as 35 of the nation's 429 commercial airports, including some major hubs, to miss the deadline.
The bill by Hollings, D-S.C., requires Loy to report on how the airports that miss the deadline will comply and to make sure other methods are used to screen baggage.
The baggage-screening deadline was part of a broader plan to make airline travel safer after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As part of that plan, the TSA has hired 31,693 workers, all it believes it needs, to take over passenger screening duties from private contractors by Nov. 19, according to spokesman Robert Johnson.
The TSA, which is also responsible for buying, installing and operating minivan-sized bomb-detection machines used to check luggage, has hired 762 baggage screeners and believes it will have the rest, about 21,000, in place by the deadline, Johnson said.
Now Hollings wants to take aviation security to a new level. He proposed creating an inspection program for freight shipped on passenger and cargo planes. It would establish a database of trusted shippers so security could be focused on shippers who haven't passed background checks and would require security clearances for people who handle cargo.
If the bill becomes law, travelers who intentionally bypass security checkpoints at airports would be subject to penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Since the terrorist attacks, airport terminals have been evacuated when people slipped by passenger screening checkpoints.
The House voted 217-211 last month to extend the baggage deadline by a year. After the vote, managers at 133 airports asked the Senate to extend that deadline.