JOE LoTEMPLIO Press-Republican
PLATTSBURGH — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has joined the fight to prevent establishment of a fee to cross the border.
Leahy, a Democrat, introduced an amendment to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act that would bar the creation of any such fee.
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His efforts pleased North Country Congressman Bill Owens.
“Senator Leahy’s work to block proposed border fees is spot on and a reflection of the value northern border communities place on our relationship with Canada,” Owens (D-Plattsburgh) said in a news release.
“I will continue looking for opportunities to introduce similar legislative initiatives in the House and urge my colleagues in the Senate to support Chairman Leahy’s amendment.”
A proposal to study a border fee was included in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2014 budget request last month. The study would assess “the feasibility and cost relating to establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee.”
The proposed charge would apply to both the northern and southern borders of the United States. Homeland Security would require completion of the study within nine months of enactment.
The study, according to Homeland Security’s budget submission, should investigate:
▶ The feasibility of collecting from existing operators on the land border, such as bridge commissions, toll operators, commercial passenger bus and commercial passenger rail.
▶ Requirements to collect at land ports of entry where existing capability is not present.
▶ Any legal and regulatory impediments to establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee.
There were no specifications mentioned about how much the charge would be or whether it would be assessed to those entering or leaving the United States.
Owens, along with Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont and other members of the House, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month opposing the study and any new fees.
Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said a border fee could seriously damage commerce in the region.
“Our northern border senators and House members are reacting strongly to this ridiculous and economically destructive notion, as we knew they would. We support Sen. Leahy’s proposal and again thank Congressman Owens and Sens. (Charles) Schumer and (Kirsten ) Gillibrand for being part of a united commitment to stop this notion in its tracks and reassure our Canadian friends that they needn’t be concerned,” Douglas told the Press-Republican.
“I just returned from two days of border-related meetings in Ottawa, explaining that our congressional friends won’t let this go any further. But it’s definitely causing questions and uncertainty, which we don’t want to leave in the minds of either tourists or potential investors.”
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