Politics

Thune Adding TSA, NTSB Bills to FAA Authorization

‘This may be our one shot at actually moving a major piece of legislation’

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune is including additional transportation-related bills in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, he said in a Wednesday interview.

In an effort to broaden the appeal of a four-year FAA authorization bill, he was including other committee-approved bills to authorize the Transportation Security Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The move is also an effort to clear as much of the committee’s business as possible when an opportunity for floor time arises, he said.

“This may be our one shot at actually moving a major piece of legislation and we’ve got a lot of stuff hanging out there that needs to get done,” Thune said. “Some [committee members] are interested in the FAA on its own, but others care about TSA issues and NTSB issues and I think it also helps attract a broader bipartisan coalition to help get it done.”

The TSA bill, also sponsored by Thune, would authorize the agency through 2020, codify its 2002 transfer from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security and establish a five-year term for the TSA administrator. The law that created the agency in 2001 also set a five-year term.

The NTSB bill would authorize $567 million for the board through fiscal 2023. The bill would require the board to create a multimodal accident database management system within one year to improve quality and selection of accident investigations and be able to provide historical records and secure storage.

Thune told reporters on Tuesday that his and ranking Democrat Bill Nelson’s staffs were working to narrow about 100 amendments to the bill, roughly split between Democrats and Republicans. The goal is to limit the total number of amendments to allow a time agreement to limit floor consideration to “a couple of days,” he said.

A Thune aide said Wednesday an amendment list could be ready by week’s end. The current FAA authorization expires at the end of September.

Robots

Thune also said Wednesday his bill with Michigan Democrat Gary Peters to establish a framework for federal regulation of autonomous vehicles could potentially be tacked onto the FAA bill.

Unlike the noncontroversial TSA and NTSB bills, however, the self-driving vehicle bill is opposed by some Democrats. Thune and Peters have tried this year to reach a unanimous consent agreement to pass the bill — both have said the bill would easily pass in a floor vote — but have been unable to overcome objections from senators who want additional safety protections or who are skeptical of the technology.

Some opposition may be impossible to bridge, Thune said Wednesday. Cooperation from Democratic leaders, though, could allow the bill to move forward, he said.

“It’s all going to come down to how much cooperation we can get,” he said. “There are some Democrat objections to it, but to the extent we can address the things that are fixable — some of it is basically just opposition that we’re not going to be able to address. But if we can get a broad consensus and Democrat leadership interested in allowing it to move, we’re going to try and do it.”

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