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Governor's Proposed Homeland Security Bill Under Fire Governor's Proposed Homeland Security Bill Under Fire

AP via website of NBC 10 Providence
2/18/2004 | Associated Press

Governor's Proposed Homeland Security Bill Under Fire

PROVIDENCE -- Legislation intended to strengthen the state's security measures drew criticism from a civil rights group that said the proposed law threatens free speech and academic freedom.

Gov. Don Carcieri's new homeland security law would create new felony charges, require annual safety audits of every public school and close some public records, including those that show whether businesses comply with state Fire Safety Code requirements.

The bill, which Carcieri introduced last week, also resurrects World War I-era laws that make it illegal to "speak, utter, or print'' statements in support of anarchy; speak in favor of overthrowing the government; or to display "any flag or emblem other than the flag of the United States'' as symbolic of the U.S. government.

The director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Brown, called the proposal "extraordinarily dangerous'' and "a return to McCarthyism, when people had to be careful what they said or what organization they belonged to.''

The organization released on Tuesday a 13-page critique of Carcieri's proposal.

Jeff Neal, the governor's spokesman, said the legislation is based on laws that have been enacted in several states including New York, Virginia, Florida and Massachusetts.

Neal was quoted as saying, "In a post-9/11 America, state governments have a responsibility to update their homeland security laws in order to protect their citizens'' .

Brown wrote in his critique that the proposed law has "enormous ramifications for political protest, freedom of association, academic freedom and the public's right to know.''

One issue is Carcieri's definition of terrorism. The governor's bill defines terrorism as "a violent act or an act dangerous to human life'' that is "intended to: intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, kidnapping or aircraft piracy.''

The language is similar to the USA Patriot Act, a federal law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Critics contend that law, which clarifies and increases the powers that federal agents have when investigating crimes, threatens civil rights.

Neal said despite the similarities, Carcieri's definition of terrorism was based not on the Patriot Act but on a state law passed in 1996.

Brown also criticized the bill's expansion of laws on the books since World War I that make it illegal, for example, to teach or advocate anarchy.

Brown said the laws are "blatantly unconstitutional'' and "dormant.''

Four pages of Carcieri's 18-page bill deal with weapons of mass destruction, making it illegal for anyone to employ a weapon of mass destruction, a crime punishable by life in prison.

Brown said federal law already prohibits the release of weapons of mass destruction, and cases of that magnitude would be more properly tried as federal crimes.

But Neal said: "We cannot assume that someone else will take care of this problem for us. We have a responsibility to enact laws for ourselves.''


Carcieri withdraws homeland-security bill
February 19, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Governor Carcieri today asked the General Assembly to withdraw from consideration his proposed homeland-security legislation, which drew fire from constitutional scholars and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union over its potential infringement of constitutional rights.

Carcieri prepared the bill as part of his legislative agenda in an effort to strengthen the state's anti-terrorism laws following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America.

But critics claimed that the legislation, if passed, would have limited how Rhode Islanders could exercise the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of petition.

"In light of these concerns, I have asked the General Assembly to withdraw the current measure from consideration," Carcieri said in a prepared statement released this afternoon.

Steven Brown, executive director of the local ACLU, said of Carcieri's decision: "I'm very pleased. As the ACLU's analysis of the bill documented, the legislation would have significantly eroded fundamental constitutional rights of Rhode Islanders."

The ACLU brought attention to the issue in a 13-page analysis published on its Web site Tuesday . The ACLU called the legislation "extraordinarily dangerous" with "alarming ramifications for political and labor protest, freedom of association, academic freedom and the public's right to know."

Brown had issued a press release Tuesday pointing out the legislation's perceived flaws and calling attention to the ACLU's analysis.

"We felt it was very important to make people aware of the very dangerous consequences of this legislation," Brown said. "It's not the sort of bill that should quietly make its way through the legislative process."

The proposal soon caught the attention of constitutional scholars in other parts of the country.

Paul McMasters, a nationally recognized expert at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., said, "What Governor Carcieri proposes is to take the state of Rhode Island back 200 years. Dissent is at the heart of democratic freedoms."

Referring to Rhode Island's founder, he continued, "From Roger Williams on, Rhode Island has always been at the forefront of championing freedom of speech in general and political discourse specifically."

Carcieri said his legislation was written after a thorough review of laws to prevent and prosecute terrorism. Noting that state government has a responsibility to protect the public by "responding to new and evolving threats," Carcieri said his office decided that some laws needed to be updated.

He said today he will continue to examine the issue.

"Going forward, I will solicit input from a variety of interested and informed parties to determine what alterations to our existing laws are necessary to protect public safety in a post-911 world.

"In the end, however, our response must be carefully measured against preserving Americans' fundamental rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom to petition. I intend to safeguard the right guaranteed under the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Rhode Island," he said.

Brown said the state should carefully consider whether new laws are really necessary. He says the federal government has passed a number of laws to prevent terrorism and the issue is probably best handled on a federal level.

He said, "I think it's easy to jump on the bandwagon and try to pass something symbolically to show the state is trying to deal with this very serious issue, but the problem is, in doing so, unintended consequences can flow from that as we saw in the governor's initial try."


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