CONFEREES AGREE ON BIOTERROR BILL
13 Jul 2003
Source: Washington Post, May 22, 2002.
Conferees Agree on Bioterror Bill
Legislation Calls for Vaccine Stockpiles, Increased Research
By Helen Dewar, Washington Post Staff Writer
House and Senate negotiators agreed yesterday on the final version of legislation meant to ensure a sustained, comprehensive effort to shore up the nation's defenses against a bioterror attack.
The bill, likely to win swift approval from Congress and prompt signature by President Bush, includes provisions calling for the stockpiling of drugs and vaccines and other initiatives to help prevent, detect and treat terrorism-related health threats.
It also would expand the program through which pharmaceutical companies pay large fees to the Food and Drug Administration to review their new drug applications. Drugmakers support the higher fees because they enable the agency to speed up the process of moving new products to the marketplace. Some critics, however, say the higher fees will make the FDA more dependent on an industry it regulates.
The House could take up the legislation as early as today. The Senate may act on it before this Friday's start of Congress's week-long Memorial Day recess or shortly after Congress returns June 3.
While funds to finance first-year operations were approved late last year, lawmakers said the bioterrorism authorization bill was needed for regulatory and other legal mandates and to establish a framework for allocating the money.
The legislation resulted from separate but largely similar bills passed last year by both chambers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and subsequent anthrax spore-tainted letters that were received on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the country.
"Because of this bipartisan legislation, Americans will be able to sleep better at night in the knowledge that our nation is taking the steps necessary to protect them and their families against the deadly threat of bioterrorism," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy co-sponsored the Senate version of the legislation with Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The House bill was sponsored by Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).
The Senate and House bills anticipated spending about $3 billion annually on anti-bioterrorism efforts, roughly the sum that has been appropriated for the current fiscal year. But the final version refers simply to "such sums as necessary" to pay for programs prescribed by the legislation, according to a Senate aide.
In addition to providing for stockpiling of vaccines and antibiotics to protect against biological and chemical weapons, including the possibility of a smallpox epidemic, the legislation authorizes substantial new spending to help state and local health officials prepare for bioterrorism attacks. Grants would be made available to help hospitals prepare for treatment of victims. Funding for research on prevention and treatment also would be increased.
The bill calls for tighter regulation of laboratories and people who work with materials that could be used in bioweapons to target individuals or the food supply.
Additional steps would be taken to protect the food supply, including new authority for the FDA to bar unsafe food from entering the country and grants to states to strengthen food inspections and deal with outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. New registration and record-keeping requirements would be imposed, and safety improvements would be ordered at animal research labs.
The bill would require community water systems serving more than 3,300 people to conduct vulnerability assessments and prepare emergency response plans, and calls for a review of current and future precautions. In case of an attack on a nuclear power plant, expanded supplies of potassium iodide would be made available to communities near the plants as a step to handle contamination.
Staff writer Marc Kaufman contributed to this report.