Civil rights groups and privacy advocates rallied at the state Capitol to protest proposed anti-terrorism legislation moving through the House and Senate. Gov. Ventura, House Republicans and Senate DFLers all have plans to give law enforcement more tools to monitor and prosecute alleged terrorists, but civil rights advocates say Minnesotans' civil liberties may be violated if the proposals become law.
Since Sept. 11, lawmakers and Gov. Ventura have been looking into ways to make sure the state has the ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. Committees in both the House and Senate have been hearing the bills this week.
Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the legislation in the DFL-controlled Senate, says the bill includes grants that would help local law enforcement pay for additional training and equipment. It would also allow government bodies to close public meetings when security is discussed.
"What we did is took the issue of the threat of terrorism very seriously and put in what it is Minnesota needs that is not addressed at the federal level and had a really good balance," according to Ranum.
Gov. Ventura has also proposed an $18 million anti-terrorism package. In the House, Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, is seeking a package that would cost up to $25 million. Some civil rights advocates say they have problems with all three proposals.
"We're talking about legislation that will effect the civil rights of all people in Minnesota and, unfortunately, no one realizes or very few people realize what the extent of this legislation is," says Peter Erlinder, a professor of constitutional law at the William Mitchell College of Law.
"We're talking about legislation that will effect the civil rights of all people in Minnesota and, unfortunately, no one realizes or very few people realize what the extent of this legislation is."
- Peter Erlinder, William Mitchell College of Law
Erlinder says the definition of terrorism in all of the proposals is too vague. He says the bill doesn't specify which person or persons determine that a "a menace or threat of death or serious bodily injury" exists and that there's no standard to determine how the definition is applied.
"Short-term political fixes, like sending the Japanese to the camps in 1943, like having Mccarthy purges in the state department and throughout government in the 1950s, in a very short time reveal themselves as being extremely short sighted and create an embarrassment not only for the legislators who have passed them but the people of the state that would allow something like that to go into effect," Erlinder says.
Erlinder says he's concerned with specific provisions in each of the bills. He's against a proposed requirement that all legal immigrants carry an identification card. He also says Ventura is seeking a provision that would allow law enforcement to collect and maintain confidential data on suspected terrorists.
Ventura spokesman John Wodele said the governor supported the bill because the new law enforcement powers would expire after five years.
"These bills do provide opportunities for law enforcement to go a little bit farther than normal, but we are in a war and he believes that as long as it has been sunsetted or will be sunsetted and will not last forever that it's necessary," Wodele said.
When the governor announced the bill, it didn't contain that sunset. Rep. Stanek's bill includes additional funding for law enforcement, an expansion of wiretap laws, and expanded background checks for people who transport hazardous materials. He says lawmakers have been careful to listen to those who have concerns about civil liberties.
"We knew we would have to approach this very cautiously and deliberately, that we would do this in the public eye through the committee's discussion process to shape this legislation. We're very cognizant of civil rights and privacy rights and how they effect the people of Minnesota and that's why we've gone about this in a slow and deliberate process," according to Stanek.
However, civil rights advocates say lawmakers should delay their proposals until next session. Stanek says he expects his bill to come up for a vote in the House in two weeks.
The Senate bill will be heard next in the Telecommunications, Energy and Utilities Committee meeting.More from MPR