Business officials happy passport plan being shelved

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(Host) Vermont business officials say they’re very pleased that a controversial plan by the Bush Administration to require passports to travel to Canada is being shelved.

Senator Patrick Leahy says the new Democratic majority in Congress will block any effort by the Administration to implement the proposal.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When Congress convenes in January, Leahy will be the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee.

In that role, Leahy says he plans to thwart efforts by the Bush Administration to require passports to travel to Canada.

(Leahy) “I’ll tell you one thing. We’re going to do away with some of the cockamamie ideas of passports to go across the Canadian border. This is something that’s been highly offensive to the Canadians and should be to us. I don’t know a single person involved in business in Vermont who thinks this is a good idea. It would cost us thousands of jobs. It would cost tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars here in our state but it would cost billions across…we ought to be celebrating that fact they we have a country that loves us and we can deal with than to try to set up artificial barriers.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says it’s critical for the Administration to realize that there are key differences between the Canadian border and the Mexican border:

(Leahy) “Does anybody think if you were a terrorist no matter all these things that you do you couldn’t get across that border somewhere if you really wanted to? I mean come on, let’s be real. Sometimes I think that these are set up to just to employ more and more people to do more and more things that don’t make us any more safe.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Chamber of Commerce has been strongly opposed to the passport idea because it feels the plan would stifle trade and tourism between Vermont and Canada. Curtis Picard is the group’s vice president for international trade:

(Picard) “It’s definitely great news. This is an issue that a lot of folks the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and other business partners have been working on for well over a year.”

(Kinzel) Picard says a recent crackdown at Vermont border crossings that required border patrol agents to verify the identification of every person coming into the state tied up traffic for more than 3 days. The incident confirmed his worst fears about the passport plan:

(Picard) “Vermont is really a gateway to the rest of New England. You know, everybody talks about the northern New York border being very important and it is, but if you’re talking about goods that come in from overseas into the Montreal port, they’re coming in through 89 and 91 down to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and there’s a huge amount of traffic that goes there. So any slowdown at the border really causes some back ups.”

(Kinzel) Picard says the Chamber does support efforts to require individuals crossing the border to have new certified photo licenses. That’s a plan that’s also being considered by Congress.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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