Since January, tens of thousands of truck drivers, longshoremen and other maritime workers have been required to carry separate federal and local security cards to enter Florida seaports.
Businesses and port directors across the state call the dual credentials a waste of time and money. They warn that ports in neighboring Georgia and Alabama could steal away customers tired of paying the extra cost of a state-mandated card.
"This certainly doesn't make us look business-friendly," says Mike Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council, which represents the state's 14 deep-water ports. "There's a cost penalty and lost time with the duplicative process of finger printing and record checks."
Port officials and businesses have lobbied legislators to end the state-mandated credential. But they've been opposed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or FDLE, and state Office of Drug Control.
Florida's credential originated with a law passed months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The intent was to stop drug smuggling and theft at ports, in part by making sure people with certain criminal convictions couldn't work at docks, warehouses and other restricted areas. State ports have issued about 100,000 credentials under the state law, Rubin said.
Congress subsequently required a similar ID card aimed at keeping terrorists out of ports, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. Workers have been required to show the federal card to enter all of Florida's major ports, including Tampa, since Jan. 13.
The federal credential's rules are fine for countering terrorists but not other threats, said Bill Janes, director of the state's Office of Drug Control. Convictions for certain crimes — such as burglary — can disqualify someone from obtaining a state credential but not the federal one.
Also, the FBI database used to check applicants doesn't catch some felony convictions from Florida, Janes says. The state also runs names through Florida's crime records. "For two years, I've opposed two credentials," Janes says. "But I do not support eliminating the current background checks." That would mean keeping both federal and state fees for each applicant.
Subsidiaries of ComCar Industries in Auburndale can pay more than $300 in credentials for a new driver to work at Tampa's port, said Jim Gourley, a vice president at ComCar. That includes $132.50 for the federal ID, $70 for a credential to enter the port and $91 for a hazardous materials certification from the state.
Workers also need separate ID cards — and usually new record checks — for each Florida port they visit more than five times in 90 days. The fees could total up to $2,760, said Scott McAllister, who oversees domestic security for the FDLE. His agency wants changes in the law, including requiring only one federal and state background check for credentials in all Florida ports.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.