Washington (Reuters) – President George W. Bush on Friday signed legislation to help protect U.S. ports against catastrophic September 11-style attacks as part of an election-year push on domestic security sought by both political parties.
By signing the Safe Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006, Bush set in motion an unrelated ban on Internet gambling, drawing protests from a group representing the gambling industry.
„With the bill I sign today, we renew a clear commitment: We will work tirelessly to keep our nation safe and our ports open for business,“ Bush said in a signing ceremony.
The bill was approved by the U.S. Congress two weeks ago as part of a frenzy of last-minute legislating before lawmakers left Washington to campaign for November 7 elections in which control of the U.S. Congress is at stake.
The bill authorizes USD 3.4 billion over five years for safety measures, including installing radiation detectors at the 22 largest U.S. ports by the end of next year.
It also increases the number of random searches of the 11 million containers coming through U.S. ports every year.
Port security advanced as an issue in Congress this year after an outcry over the Bush administration’s decision to allow an Arab company, Dubai Ports World, to buy major U.S. port assets.
The ports bill sets up a pilot program at three foreign ports to test the feasibility of scanning cargo headed for the United States while it is still overseas.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey called the legislation a „sham port bill“ and complained it did not go far enough, by authorizing only a pilot program to study scanning of cargo containers headed for the U.S. from three ports.
„Even though the technology exists today to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo at all ports to make sure it doesn’t contain nuclear bombs, this bill doesn’t require that to occur,“ Markey said.
The decision by the Republican majority to lump the Internet gambling ban onto the bipartisan ports bill had drawn scathing criticism from some Democrats.
„Today is a dark day for the great American game of poker,“ said Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance, a grassroots advocacy organization of more than 110,000 poker enthusiasts.
„Twenty-three million Americans who play the game online will effectively be denied the ability to enjoy this popular form of entertainment, even in the privacy of their own homes,“ he said.