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State lawmakers draft more than 1,200 Sept. 11-related bills

By The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — State lawmakers nationwide have responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by drafting more than 1,200 bills, ranging from making terrorism a capital crime to requiring teachers to lead students each day in the Pledge of Allegiance, according to a report.

The bills — an average of 24 per state — have been or are being considered in state legislatures, according to the report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which was released April 18.

Given that thousands of bills can be introduced for a single state legislative session, the overall number of terrorism-related measures was not terribly high.

"State legislatures have (taken) a thoughtful and reasonable approach following the attacks on America," said conference director William Pound.

Meanwhile, all 50 states have created homeland security offices or committees, and many have tightened security in public buildings by reducing public entrances and installing metal detectors, even in state capitols.

"I was pleased to see all the states dealing with this because every state has specific security issues," said Arizona state Rep. Wesley Marsh, chairman of the NCSL's Task Force on Protecting Democracy, which issued the report.

The new legislative measures cover crime, health, electronic surveillance, government operations and computer crimes, among other issues.

Much of the activity has affected state criminal laws, many of which were devoid of references to terrorism. A measure in Iowa "creates or defines crimes of terrorism" and goes on to make it punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Lawmakers in New York have been working on criminal laws to deal specifically with people who commit crimes such as looting during a terrorist crisis.

A bill introduced in Illinois would create criminal penalties for terrorist hoaxes. Hoaxes were a frequent and costly problem for law enforcement agencies around the country last fall, especially after a handful of anthrax-laced letters resulted in at least five deaths.

Police have responded to numerous cases of threatening letters containing what turned out to be harmless powder.

Just this month, the Louisiana Legislature approved a measure restricting driver's licenses for non-U.S. citizens. Foreigners' driver's licenses will now expire when their visas do, instead of in the normal four-years.

Meanwhile, certain computer-related crimes have since been defined as terrorism by laws passed in Louisiana, Michigan and Virginia, the report said.

Cyber-terrorism is a major concern given that things like floodgates and power plants are run on computers, said Marsh.

Marsh said a number of legislatures are struggling with how to help law enforcement collect and protect sensitive data without infringing on individual liberties. A major point of contention in an anti-terrorism act just passed in Louisiana was a provision that exempts reports on various terrorist-vulnerable spots, such as water systems, from the state's public-records law.

"We've found that the media has to be involved or the public can't hold the government accountable," Marsh said.

At the very least, representatives of the media should have access to sensitive information, even if they are barred from immediately reporting it, so there will be less suspicion of government inappropriately hiding things.

The report also cited numerous pieces of legislation meant to promote patriotism. In Pennsylvania, one bill referred to a House Education Committee would require supervising teachers at public and private schools to begin the school day by leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of the National Anthem. A portion of Michigan's post Sept. 11 homeland security law allows public buildings to display the motto "In God We Trust."

In addition to summarizing state responses to the September attacks, the report seeks to give guidance on how state officials can coordinate security initiatives with federal and local governments.

For example, they can find out where to seek technical help and federal funding for specific security operations, such as setting up decontamination teams at hospitals.

"There's never been that kind of one-stop shopping before, and it's especially important for states trying to deal with threats of bioterrorism because many of them have never dealt with this before," Marsh said.

Marsh called the report released April 18 "a work in progress," and said a final draft will be presented in July to federal homeland security chief Tom Ridge.


Open-government advocates criticize Oklahoma records bill

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Missouri, Maryland consider proposals to restrict access to public records. 03.04.02

Maryland governor signs anti-terrorism bills
ACLU had opposed measure limiting access to some public records but says it worked with governor's staff to resolve those objections. 04.10.02

Louisiana lawmakers pass anti-terrorism bill
Legislature sends measure to governor despite complaints it would create veil of secrecy, infringe on residents' constitutional rights. 04.18.02

55% oppose sacrificing civil liberties for security
More than half of Americans surveyed by university say they don't want to give up constitutional rights in government's fight against terrorism. 04.24.02

Bill to amend N.Y. FOI law draws criticism
Open-government advocates say measure limiting access to terrorism-related information could give agencies carte blanche to restrict material. 05.09.02

Public records tougher to view since Sept. 11
Culture of secrecy that traditionally has pervaded federal government was magnified after last year's terrorist attacks, panelists say. 05.09.02

Minnesota governor vetoes Pledge of Allegiance requirement
Jesse Ventura: ‘I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary.’ 05.23.02

Newspaper editors join to battle threats to FOI
ASNE, APME meet to consider ways to deal with increasing tendency of governments to withhold information and to make previously available records secret. 06.12.02

Ohio anti-terrorism law blocks access to security records
'This is yet another one of those examples of the danger in how far you overreact and what you have done to the principles of open government,' says press association director. 08.27.02

Terrorism fears have states closing public records, report finds
Study reveals that although lawmakers have enacted dozens of changes limiting access to information, overall affect hasn't been as draconian as some have argued. 03.18.03

The First Amendment: A Wartime Casualty?
Civil liberties advocates fear government's history of trampling citizens' rights during times of conflict is being repeated. 02.15.02

Many new records laws balance free-speech, security concerns
First Amendment advocates, state lawmakers say middle ground has been found that protects sensitive information but doesn't unnecessarily freeze out public. 05.21.02

A matter of balance: Secrecy doesn't guarantee security
By Ken Paulson Using the terrorist attacks as justification for this new wave of efforts to close public records would be too easy — and misleading. 03.24.02

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