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Governor's Proposed Homeland Security Bill Under Fire

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  • Governor's Proposed Homeland Security Bill Under Fire

    Audits Of Fire Safety Records Required

    POSTED: 10:01 am EST February 18, 2004
    UPDATED: 10:17 am EST February 18, 2004

    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 now.''

    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.''
    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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