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House and Senate Split on Approach to Obama’s Transit Safety Plan

After a year marked by discord between the House
and Senate
over the timing of the next federal transportation bill, another split
emerged yesterday over the timetable for taking up the Obama
administration's plan for
federal involvement
in transit safety oversight.

micacommuterrail196f.jpgRep. John
Mica (R-FL) opposes the White House safety plan, but he also wants to
see it debated as part of broader transport legislation. (Photo: Orlando
Sentinel
)

Speaking to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA)
annual conference, aides to both House infrastructure committee
chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Rep. John Mica (FL), the panel's top
Republican, said they aim to make the White House's proposed transit
safety legislation part of the broader debate over restructuring federal
transport programs -- an issue that may not come before Congress until
next year
.

But an adviser to the Senate Banking Committee's senior Republican,
Richard Shelby (AL), said he wants the transit safety bill to be "a
free-standing piece of legislation and not wait until" lawmakers can
agree on a long-term federal transport bill.

In remarks that touched on the continuing impasse over that
six-year transport bill, Oberstar aide Amy Scarton asked APTA members to
provide input on the White House transit safety proposal, which has
gotten mixed
reviews
from transit officials. The safety legislation is set to
move through the House "as part of the long-term surface transportation
bill," she said.

Meanwhile, Mica remains opposed to the Obama team's strategy of
asking state transit overseers (known as SSOs) to submit to federal
supervision if their programs are deemed out of compliance with minimal
safety standards, according to aide Joyce Rose. The Floridian would
prefer to bolster individual SSOs with grant money to avoid "creating a
new federal bureaucracy," she said.

But Rose agreed with Scarton that transit safety should move as
part of the broader transport bill, a perspective that runs counter to
the administration's hopes for quick passage of its
proposed legislation
.

After the House aides spoke, Shannon Hines -- who served as
Shelby's chief of staff before moving to the Banking panel in 2007 --
expressed her boss' differing view on the transit safety debate.

It remains to be seen whether other senators share his view on the
timing for safety legislation. An adviser to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) did
not mention the retiring Banking chairman's preferred approach
yesterday, and a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a leading
voice
on transit safety, told Streetsblog Capitol Hill that the
Maryland senator is "looking at all the options" in order to approve the
administration's safety plan "as quickly as possible."

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