Business officials pleased over passport proposal delay

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(Host) Vermont business officials say they’re pleased that a new plan to require passports to travel to Canada has been delayed by Congress for several years.

They say the proposal would have discouraged tourism between Vermont and Quebec and caused major disruptions at border crossings.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The proposal was part of the Homeland Security Budget bill for next year. It was set to be phased in over a two-year period. Individuals traveling by air or sea to Canada would have been required to have a passport by January 1st of 2007. The deadline for anyone traveling by car was January 1st of 2008.

Now the entire program has been delayed until the summer of 2009 to give business leaders an opportunity to draft an alternative approach.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce has been following this issue very closely. Curtis Picard is the Chamber’s vice president for economic development.

(Picard) “Vermont gets one out of three of our day visitors from north of the border. And if folks have an inclination to not travel because they don’t have a passport or pass card or something else to get across the border, they’re simply going to decide not to come to Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Picard says the Chamber was also very concerned that the plan would have resulted in massive traffic jams at the border. He says this development would have discouraged the flow of commerce between Vermont and Quebec:

(Picard) “Canada’s our largest trading partner. They’re one of our best allies in the world. It’s the world’s longest peaceful border, and trade and travel between Canada and the U.S. should be getting easier in 2006, not harder.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy strongly opposed the passport plan and led the effort to delay it.

(Leahy) “They just did not think this thing through. Now they will have to think it through. And I would hope that the U.S. would realize that the Canadian border is a lot different than our southern border. The problems are a lot different, and why we would spend billions upon billions upon billions of dollars on a system that basically says to Canadians, We don’t trust you.’ makes no sense to me.”

(Kinzel) The Homeland Security bill also includes a provision that, for the first time, allows U.S. citizens to purchase prescription drugs in Canada.

It will now be legal for individuals to bring back a 90 day supply. Leahy says the amendment is a small step in the fight to allow the full reimportation of drugs from Canada:

(Leahy) “But even there you’ve got to go up there and get it. A lot of people bought these drugs over the Internet or mail order. A lot of people are elderly. They’re not about to get in a car and drive up there. It is a partial victory for consumers, but much of the war is still being won by the pharmaceutical companies.”

(Kinzel) The Homeland Security bill also maintains a requirement that small states like Vermont receive a share of funds being allocated for first responders. Over the past few years, the state has received over $70 million to help fire, police and rescue agencies purchase new equipment.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel.

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