House Passes Bill to Improve Airport Security in Wake of LAX Shooting

July 23--In the wake of November's deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill to tighten security at the nation's airports.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), is named in honor of Gerardo Hernandez, the Transportation Security Administration screener who was shot to death Nov. 1 while on duty at LAX.

After Hernandez was attacked, two other TSA officials and a schoolteacher were wounded as a gunman with an assault-style rifle ran through a passenger screening area and went on a rampage inside Terminal 3.

The Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to work with airports and verify that they have adequate emergency plans to deal with active shooters, terrorists and incidents that target security checkpoints like the one near the spot where Hernandez was killed.

The measure also requires the department to identify the best security practices that exist at the nation's airports and develop ways to share those measures with other commercial aviation facilities.

"It is imperative that major airports like LAX have a state-of-the-art emergency response system," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), a supporter of the bill. "The safety and security of our nation's airports and all of the workers and travelers who pass through them is of paramount importance."

After the shooting, several congressional and state hearings were held, including one in Waters' district, which includes LAX.

Those hearings revealed security lapses at the nation's third-largest airport that interfered with emergency response efforts. They included an emergency phone and panic buttons that did not work, as well as coordination and communications problems involving public safety agencies.

"These security failures are unacceptable," Waters said.

The discussions also addressed the removal of armed police officers from LAX's security checkpoints months before the shooting. A debate has ensued over whether the officers should be put back.

The chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department contends that removing the officers and adding them to patrols around LAX is a more effective use of limited resources.

Representatives of TSA officials and other members of the airport Police Department have said that armed officers are needed at the checkpoints or at least put on patrols that center on screening areas.

The bill, which passed on a voice vote, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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Copyright 2014 - Los Angeles Times

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