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Louisiana lawmakers pass anti-terrorism bill

By The Associated Press

04.18.02

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Editor's note: Gov. Mike Foster signed the anti-terrorism bill on April 23.

BATON ROUGE, La. — A sweeping anti-terrorism measure scraped through the Legislature in the final hours of the special session yesterday, despite complaints the bill would hinder government openness and infringe on residents' constitutional rights.

Legislators complained the bill, while a good idea, was too vague and far-reaching, particularly in its removal of certain items from public scrutiny.

Under the measure, criminal intelligence information collected in terrorism investigations and vulnerability assessments of facilities would be exempt from the state public-records laws.

"This is creating a veil of secrecy that goes beyond terrorists and includes the general public," said Rep. Tony Perkins, R-Baker.

Perkins said the bill would make it easier for the police and other officials to collect files of information on regular citizens for purposes unrelated to terrorism.

Rep. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said there was a possibility to misuse the bill in a manner similar to laws used decades ago to target communism.

"It's a carte blanche card to infringe upon the constitutional rights of the citizens of this great state," said Rep. Taylor Townsend, D-Natchitoches, calling it a huge expansion of police power.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Hunt Downer, R-Houma, said the bill only mentions specific criminal intelligence information related to terrorism and vulnerability assessments.

"This bill would protect us by keeping our weapon, our information, from them," he said.

Lawmakers approved the measure yesterday after removing an expiration date on most of its conditions. The Senate at first refused to go along with the final version of the bill, voting instead to send it back to a compromise committee, but Downer refused to back down from his stance that his bill shouldn't have an expiration, commonly known as a sunset clause.

"The war on terrorism is going to last more than three years," Downer said. "What criminal statute do you know of that has a sunset, says you're going to be a terrorist for the next three years but not after that? None."

The Senate reconsidered its actions last night, voting 25-1 to finally approve the bill. The House earlier in the day agreed to the final version in a 54-44 vote. The measure goes next to the governor for his signature.

The bill creates the crimes of terrorism and aiding others in terrorism, and it sets up penalties for the acts.

Terrorism would include murder, serious injury, kidnapping, aggravated arson or aggravated criminal damage to property with the intent to intimidate or coerce people or influence or affect the conduct of government through intimidation.

Maximum penalties would range from 10 years in prison for kidnapping to the death penalty for murder. Helping someone commit a terrorist act would carry a maximum penalty of 50 years in jail.

Related

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Analysis 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

Open-government advocates wary of states' records proposals
Civil libertarians worry efforts to increase security may hinder public's ability to monitor government.  02.06.02

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