House panel approves bill to strengthen Cuban airport security

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A House panel easily approved legislation on Wednesday that would beef up security at Cuban airports, but not ground U.S. fights to the country.

Last year, as the U.S. was preparing to resume commercial air service with Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, some lawmakers tried to halt flights from going there until new security measures were implemented.

But those members appear to have backed off the effort, nearly a year after U.S. flights started touching down in Cuba.

“This is a very different bill than what was submitted last time,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) assured lawmakers during a House Homeland Security Committee meeting. “We are not aiming to stop flights. We simply want to make them secure.”


Katko’s new bill would require U.S. airlines operating in Cuba, which sometimes pay an agency controlled by the Cuban government to conduct airline operations on the ground and hire their employees, to publicly disclose those contracts. He hopes the measure will encourage American airlines to directly hire their own employees.

Katko said it’s an important step to take, given the potential threat of insider access.

“The airlines have no visibility into who these workers are, how they are vetted and how much they are being paid,” Katko said.

The legislation also would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to assess each of Cuba’s 10 international airports and brief Congress about it. A delegation of lawmakers, which included Katko, were denied visas last year to go check out Cuba’s airports themselves.

Katko’s bill also has broad provisions to address aviation security, including a requirement that the government disclose all federal air marshal agreements with foreign partners.

Democrats agreed not to oppose the measure on Wednesday, but urged Katko to continue to ensure that the bill would not create an undue burden on the Cuban people.

“We’ll go with it. I just don’t want us to continue to fight Cuba,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member on the panel. “While I have some concerns about your bill, I will not ask for a recorded vote on it.”

The bill was approved by voice vote, and now heads to House floor.


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