TRYING to justify an anti-terrorism measure unanimously approved by the Ohio Senate is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. Can't do it.
While it is certainly not the first time state lawmakers have rushed to pass legislation that lacked solid moorings- the anti-gay marriage issue comes to mind - the urgency in passing this particular bill is as hard to justify as its substance.
It appears from the onset that the bill, less about necessity and more about politics, was not especially driven by overriding concerns about the state's ability to fight terrorism. Regrettably, it bears some of the same knee-jerk overkill markings of the federal Patriot Act that likewise stomps on the very personal freedoms it purports to protect.
Sen. Jeff Jacobson, who sponsored the bill, seemed to take up the measure for the worst possible reason: because he could. The Dayton Republican was afflicted by the same pile-on syndrome popular among other flag-waving members of the majority party in Columbus.
After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of arrest for people who refused to give their names to police officers, Senator Jacobson apparently figured it was appropriate to show solidarity with the prevailing intolerance of the times.
So he got busy pitching a measure that, for the first time, allows Ohioans to be arrested for not disclosing their names, addresses, and age to police on demand. Civil libertarians shuddered.
Hesitant Senate Democrats pressed for less strident provisions on immigrants and the scope of questions the state can require of applicants for certain state licenses. The version that sailed through the Senate hardly relented much to its critics.
Besides expanding police powers to set up checkpoints for the inspection of citizen identification, the terrorism bill also requires new reporting to federal authorities by state judges and prosecutors when an illegal immigrant has been convicted of a felony.
Besides lumping aliens with terrorists, the measure also tamps down on some information now available under the Ohio Public Records Act. It exempts material relayed to law enforcement by chemical plants and other "critical infrastructure facilities" about security vulnerabilities and worst-case scenarios.
ACLU legal director Jeffrey Gamso says the Senate bill not only duplicates many elements of federal law but it also "enshrines discrimination in attitude and fact into our law."
But it looks good for lawmakers eager to throw their weight around by concocting bad policy to blatantly exploit public anxiety for political gain. Ohioans need extra protection, all right, not necessarily from terrorists but from fear-mongering politicians in Columbus.