Lawmakers seek compromise anti-terrorism bill

Elizabeth Putnam

Nearly seven months after the World Trade Center attacks, state legislators are fusing their anti-terrorism solutions this week in an effort to prepare the state for the unexpected.

A House and Senate committee debated differing policy proposals Tuesday, ranging from closing some public meetings to altering wire-tapping procedures.

“For those who would take advantage,
open-meeting laws provide a map or a recipe,” said Remi Stone, from the League of Minnesota Cities.

Legislators discussed whether meetings involving emergency procedures should be open to the public. Some legislators said these meetings should be closed because they could provide terrorists with sensitive information.

The committee members also debated whether background checks for crop-dusting pilots are necessary.

Discussion on the policies continued Wednesday in work groups. On Thursday, legislators will hammer out differing Senate and House provisions, including controversial wiretapping proposals.

The House’s plan expands the list of crimes for which wiretaps and voice-mail access could be used.

The House bill would devote $22 million from a tobacco-prevention endowment fund to the Department of Public Safety to upgrade equipment and enhance training efforts for emergency personnel.

The statewide public safety radio communication system would also receive $26 million from the House’s bonding bill.

The Senate’s bill – totaling $21 million – would increase 911 telephone surcharges by 25 cents to create $17 million for new police radios, 911 response systems and training. It would also spend $4 million from the general fund on public safety – less than one-fifth of what the House spends.

Alice Kloker, Anti-War Committee member and a University political science graduate student, said, “Anytime you have increased surveillance, you are compromising civil liberties.”

Legislators say finding a compromise between the House’s and Senate’s bills could be difficult because of vast spending differences for public safety.

“Specific issues won’t be a problem, but the big gap in money will be,” said Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, committee chairman.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis and author of the Senate’s anti-terrorism plan, said, “There are major differences but not
irreconcilable differences.”

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s anti-terrorism initiatives were unveiled in late January. Ventura is willing to spend $17 million to increase management at health facilities, vaccine and medicine research and response mechanisms for public health,
safety and agriculture.

John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman, said the governor’s main stipulation is that taxes are not raised.

“The governor’s concern is how the bill is financed, but he will consider it in its entirety,” he said.

The bill’s opponents say it threatens civil liberties and gives law enforcement too much surveillance power.

Kloker said similarities between the proposed bill and the U.S.A. Patriot Act – the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress in October – are alarming.