If Sen. Jim DeMint has his way, you won't be seeing the likes of Bernie Ebbers or Jeffrey Skilling on the docks at the nation's seaports anytime soon. Unhappy with a provision in the SAFE Ports Act that bars only convicted traitors, spies and terrorists from the secure areas of seaports, the South Carolina Republican has introduced legislation that would broaden the ban to include other types of felons. Under that legislation, called the Secure Port Workforce Act, access would be denied to a wide array of wrong-doers, including, among others, individuals convicted of fraud in the last seven years.
DeMint, who describes his proposal as nearly identical to prohibitions already in place at American airports, seeks to deny seaport access to anyone who has been convicted of espionage, sedition, treason, terrorism, crimes involving transportation security, improper transport of a hazardous material, unlawful use of an explosive device, and murder. The bill would also bar individuals who have been convicted in the last seven years (or incarcerated in the last five years) of such crimes as immigration violations, drug dealing, extortion, fraud, bribery, smuggling and conspiracy to commit any of these crimes.
"We can spend all the money in the world screening cargo but if we don't screen the people working at our ports, we can't expect to prevent a terrorist attack," says DeMint. "A serious felon is a prime target for those trying to smuggle a nuclear device or chemical weapon into our country."
DeMint's plan has drawn fire from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which considers the prohibition overly broad. A statement on the group's Web site notes that although "the ILWU does not oppose restricting people convicted of espionage or treason from the docks, ... many of the other disqualifying offenses in the DeMint amendment are overly broad. ... We do contend that if someone has been convicted of a crime, has paid their debt to society and now is a productive member of society, it would be wrong to punish them a second time by taking away their jobs and destroying their families. That would be double jeopardy and unconstitutional."