Senate rejects attempt to weaken Homeland Security funding

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(Host) The U.S. Senate has rejected an attempt to weaken a Homeland Security funding system that benefits Vermont and other smaller states.

The Senate has also postponed new border security requirements, which critics feared would make it harder for people to travel back and forth to Canada.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Over the last five years, Vermont has received more than $65 million in Homeland Security funds. The money has gone to police and fire and rescue departments all over the state.

States such as New York have complained that the funding formula is too generous for small states and doesn’t give enough money to larger population areas. But the Senate late last week turned aside an attempt to change the formula so large states got more.

(Reinfurt) “I would make the argument that small states need it just as much. The chain is only strong as the weakest link.”

(Dillon) Captain Chris Reinfurt is Vermont director of Homeland Security. He says the money is needed for equipment and continued training.

(Reinfurt) “Do we need it as much as New York City? Yes. Has Vermont got its fair share? Yes. And it’s hoped that we will continue to get our fair share so we can continue to do the things we need to do to prepare for – not a terrorist attack – but a major catastrophic event.”

(Dillon) The bid to change the funding formula failed on a 34 to 66 vote. The measure now goes to the U.S. House.

The same bill also delays for 17 months new security measures that would require identity cards to cross the U.S. border. Duane Marsh is president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He says the ID requirement could restrict travel between Vermont and Canada.

(Marsh) “And our concern was that people just kind of pick up and decide to do that spur of the moment. And if they had to go get some kind of costly identification before they could do that we think that a lot of people would say, ‘Gosh, why do I want to go through a lot of trouble to do that?'”

(Dillon) Marsh says Senator Patrick Leahy deserves credit for slowing down the new ID requirements.

(Marsh) “It’s going to give us more time as we work to work with our Canadian friends to figure a solution. And we’ve been in touch with them for many months and had many discussions. Obviously it’s a very complicated issue, and this additional time will certainly help us meet with them further and help us come up with a solution that both Canada and the United States can work with.”

(Dillon) The Senate Homeland Security Bill now has to be reconciled with a House bill that passed in June.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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