No Stampede For New Terrorism Laws
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
In contrast with the federal rush to expand police powers to go after suspected terrorists, most state legislatures are moving slowly on post-9/11 homeland protection measures as they seek to balance national security concerns with the preservation of civil liberties.
Only six states -- Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Virginia and Washington -- have narrowed their open records laws or adopted statutes similar to the federal Patriot Act, which gives law enforcement authorities expanded search and wiretap powers.
This reality is at odds with a report issued by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press last month, which said "states "have been eager to follow in the footsteps of the federal government in the war on terrorism through legislation."
"What we were covering (in the report) was what had actually come up in proposals. But what we are finding is that they didn't go that far at all in terms of legislation," says Rebecca Daugherty, director of the committee's Freedom of Information Service Center.
Maryland is a case in point of the trend in state legislatures to go slow. After long, spirited wrangling, the state's House and Senate leaders approved a plan that would expand police wiretap and search powers and boost their authority to patrol airports and seaports. The deal on the wiretap measure, which opponents said would allow law enforcement to target people suspected of any crime, wasn't settled until the closing minutes Monday of the state general assembly's session.
Maryland's debate of anti-terrorism measures is illustrative of what's been happening in many legislatures. The battle lines cross political and ideological divides, and the opposing camps are in no hurry to compromise.
Maryland Del. Carmen Amedori, a conservative Republican from Westminster ,is against efforts to expand wiretap powers and close off more public records and meetings..
"This is a knee-jerk reaction (to 9/11). This is nothing but an infringement on peoples' rights," said Amedori, who once worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.
"I appreciate the need to ease concerns. But it's like Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld said when all this started: if we end up treading on civil rights, then the terrorists have won," Amedori told Stateline.org.
The measure at the heart of the debate is sponsored by Maryland Del. Ann Marie Doory, a moderate Democrat from Baltimore. She says it simply updates the state's wiretap laws to address new technologies that suspected terrorists might take advantage of.
"If you believe what our federal government...is telling us about the (terrorist) threats, then you need to support this bill. Rights are important, but if you believe we're living in a new environment, which I do, then we need to be proactive," Doory said.