Maryland governor signs anti-terrorism bills
By The Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. Gov. Parris Glendening signed a series of anti-terrorism bills into law yesterday, including a public-records measure that had drawn opposition from open-government advocates.
The administration worked hard to create legislation that enhanced the security of Marylanders while protecting their basic civil rights, Glendening said before signing the first batch of legislation produced in the 2002 legislative session that ended April 8.
Most of the bills sailed through the General Assembly with little opposition. Some, however, raised the concerns of civil liberties advocates, including legislation permitting state and local officials to deny public access to some records if they determine the records could pose a threat to the public if released.
David Rocah, an attorney for the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group worked closely with the governor's staff to narrow definitions of what documents would be closed.
Some of those instances include vulnerability assessments of government facilities that might be attacked by terrorists, blueprints of state buildings and information on which state medical facilities are housing hazardous materials.
The ACLU accepted those changes, but continues to have concerns about another piece of legislation which the governor did not sign yesterday. Called the Maryland Security Protection Act of 2002, the bill defines the crime of terrorism in Maryland law and includes it as an act for which local police can use wiretapping.
Rocah said it's wrong to justify the legislation as an anti-terrorism measure, because it's highly unlikely that local police will be investigating terrorists. And if they do "stumble on a terrorist cell," they should pass on the work to the FBI, he said.
"It's preposterous to think local governments on their own are going to be conducting international anti-terrorism operations without the help of the federal government," said Rocah, who's concerned police will use the enhanced power as a pretense to investigate other crimes.
Glendening is expected to sign the measure into law in the next few days.
One of the laws signed yesterday clarifies the governor's ability to declare a state of emergency when there is a threat of terrorism, a terrorist attack or a public health catastrophe. Another empowers the governor and the state health secretary to take actions in a health emergency, such as quarantining people with deadly diseases.
"We all hope to never have to use any of these powers," Glendening said.
Other new laws authorize the secretary of agriculture to apply for a search warrant to test for infectious and contagious livestock and poultry diseases, such as anthrax, and streamlines the process through which local jurisdictions can request emergency assistance from other localities.
Another new law creates a 15-member Maryland Security Council responsible for coordinating a cooperative response to possible terrorism by state, local and federal agencies.
"Because of the unfortunate circumstances of 9-11, the governor responded with a package of bills to make sure, God forbid, that our state is prepared in the case of another attack or some form of bioterrorism," said Sen. Paul Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, who played a key role in advancing the bills in the General Assembly.
Glendening also is expected to sign legislation giving National Guard members called to active duty by the governor the same reemployment rights as those serving under presidential order. The bill also would give the families of guardsmen a $100,000 death benefit if they are killed on duty in the state.
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