Thursday, July 26, 2007

Saving John Doe

A late-night agreement Tuesday guaranteed that so-called "John Doe" protection — to prevent airline passengers from being sued for reporting suspicious behavior — will get a floor vote in the House and Senate.

"This is a huge win — a hard-fought victory for House Republicans and, more importantly, for the American people," said Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The provision survived a contentious congressional process before a House-Senate conference committee agreed just before midnight to include the measure in the final draft of the September 11 commission bill.

The move ensures that the provision cannot be amended on the floor. It is expected to come to a vote in both houses of Congress before the August recess. If passed, the measure will nullify, in part, a lawsuit filed by six imams against US Airways and unnamed "John Doe" passengers. The legislation was initiated after the imams filed the suit in March, claiming that passengers and the airline violated their rights by removing them from the flight.

The suspicious activity included changing seats, moving about the cabin before takeoff, criticizing the Bush administration and the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and asking for seat-belt extensions flight attendants said were not needed.

The lawsuit can still go forward against the airline under the proposed law, but the "John Doe" passengers cannot be sued for reporting their concerns to the flight crew.

"I'm pleased that Democratic leaders finally decided to do the right thing and agreed with Republicans that we should be encouraging Americans to report potential terrorist activity to the proper authorities," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Democrats initially refused to vote on the language last week when congressional leaders met in the conference committee to draft the final recommendations of the September 11 commission. However, Mr. King pledged to work with leading conferee Sen. Joe Lieber

man, Connecticut independent, to insert the provision in the final written report.

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