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Bill could allow pre-inspection of trucks at the Peace Bridge

WASHINGTON – Border-state lawmakers from both parties Tuesday introduced a bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority it needs to make deals with Canada that would allow U.S.-bound cargo to be pre-inspected on the Canadian side of the border – a move that would likely reduce backups on the U.S. plaza at the Peace Bridge.

The legislation, which is backed by New York’s two senators as well as the Buffalo area’s two House members, wouldn’t automatically move the inspection of U.S.-bound cargo to the roomier plaza on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. But it would push the Department of Homeland Security to work toward that goal.

“Making pre-inspection at the Peace Bridge permanent is critical, and clearing these legal hurdles now will better pave the way to making the pre-screening program a reality in the future,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

The bill – the Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act of 2016 – would expand U.S. jurisdiction over American Customs and Border Protection agents that are operating in Canada, pursuant to agreements that the U.S. strikes with its neighbor to the north.

The local lawmakers made clear, though, that they expect the U.S. to strike such an agreement regarding the Peace Bridge, where congestion often results from trucks trying to crowd their way into the U.S.

“After years of talking about relieving congestion at the Peace Bridge, we are finally working on concrete steps to make that happen,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. “This legislation addresses legalities necessary to move forward with binational collaboration in a way that fosters economic opportunity and improves the quality of life for our border community neighborhoods and region.”

The bill was unveiled at a time of congressional stalemate, as well as a presidential campaign season filled with plenty of rhetoric about tough border enforcement.

Nevertheless, the pre-inspection bill is both bipartisan and largely noncontroversial at this point, partly because a pre-inspection pilot project at the Peace Bridge in 2014 was largely deemed a success.

Preclearance deals also could be struck at other U.S.-Canada border crossings, which is why the bill has drawn interest all along the northern border. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., introduced the bill, but with several Republican cosponsors, including Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from Willsboro who represents the North Country.

“A permanent pre-inspection process for the Peace Bridge is vital to reducing wait times, improving the flow of commerce and increasing security,” Collins said. “I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation, which successfully addresses the legal concerns surrounding the pre-inspection program and paves the way for a more efficient Peace Bridge.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced the bill with several cosponsors, including Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

“The safeguards provided by the legislation would help move along this critical process that will boost New York’s economy, especially in Western New York, and preserve our economic links with Canada,” Gillibrand said.