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Bill setting border-pass guidelines on its way to Bush

The House on Friday finalized a bill that implements the last recommendations of the 9/1 1 Commission and sets some guidelines for the government's plan to boost security at the Canadian border.

The bill, which passed the Senate late Thursday and now heads to the White House for President Bush's signature, aims to boost federal homeland security funding for at-risk cities such as New York and Washington.

In addition, it bolsters communications systems among law enforcement agencies, requires screening of all cargo on passenger planes within three years and mandates that within five years, all container ships will be scanned for nuclear devices before they leave foreign ports.

All those provisions were recommended by the much-lauded commission that studied America's worst-ever terrorist attacks -- as were far tougher security requirements at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

Those tougher requirements, namely the stipulation that a passport-like document be required at border crossings, were included in earlier legislation. But the new bill includes several provisions crafted by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and other lawmakers aimed at minimizing the difficulties of the new passport requirement.

While the Department of Homeland Security has said it plans to implement its "Western Hemisphere Travelers Initiative" by the middle of next year, the bill approved Friday:

*Requires the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to complete a cost-benefit analysis of the border plan before implementing it.

*Creates a pilot project in which enhanced driver's licenses would be tested as a secure alternative to passports at the Canadian border.

*Forces the State Department to set a low, although unspecified, processing fee for any passport alternative that's developed.

*Calls for completion of a study on the northern border within 180 days, with the Government Accountability Office to evaluate that study no more than 270 days after that.

Slaughter, who has joined with the rest of the Western New York congressional delegation in a rhetorical onslaught against the border passport plan, acknowledged that the tougher anti-terror measures included in the bill are sorely needed.

"This critically important legislation should have been enacted years ago," Slaughter said. "I'm proud that this Democratic Congress has backed up the rhetoric about the need to increase our national security with meaningful action."

The bill passed by a 371-40 vote, winning wide bipartisan support, and Bush is all set to sign it.

"These efforts build upon the considerable progress we've made over the past six years," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The independent 9/1 1 Commission issued 41 recommendations in its 2004 report, and Congress quickly approved many of them, creating a director of national intelligence, initiating new efforts to track terrorism funding and tightening land borders through the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

But other recommendations fell by the wayside until Democrats promised to make them law if they won control of Congress, which happened in the November 2006 election.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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