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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2005

Senators endorse anti-terror measures

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A person must disclose his or her name, address, and birth date to law enforcement officers near ports, bridges, airports, and train stations under a bill that the Ohio Senate approved yesterday, saying it will strengthen anti-terrorism laws.

To ask the questions, law enforcement would have to set up checkpoints like those used to catch drunken drivers and ask everyone for information, said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Dayton). "It cannot be random," Mr. Jacobson said.

If a person refuses to provide the information, authorities could detain a person for a "short period of time" based on "reasonable suspicion" and charge them with a crime, Mr. Jacobson said.

The Senate voted 32-0 to approve the bill, which moves to a House committee.

"Our interest is to keep the people of Ohio safe while protecting their constitutional rights and liberties," said state Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown.

Civil libertarians said the bill duplicates federal law and regulations on possession, assembly, and use of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons.

The legislation also "enshrines discrimination in attitude and fact into our law," said Jeff Gamso, a Toledo attorney who is legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

The measure requires prosecutors and judges to notify the federal immigration and customs enforcement officials when an illegal immigrant has been convicted of a felony.

Also, the state prison system would be required to notify immigrations and customs officials within 90 days of the release of an illegal immigrant.

Mr. Gamso said the bill "confuses aliens with terrorists."

Mr. Jacobson disagreed: "An alien who has committed a felony is subject to deportation under federal law. All this says is you have to let the government know you have such a person."

Mr. Gamso said some sections of the bill would go far beyond anti-terrorist measures.

For example, the bill would prevent a person whose driver's license has been suspended to be reinstated if there is an active arrest warrant for that person.

The bill would require individuals and businesses applying for state licenses to answer six questions about whether they have provided aid to people or groups on the federal government's terrorist-exclusion list.

Applicants would not get licenses if they answer "yes" to any of the questions, unless they have not intentionally provided support within the last 10 years and the state Department of Public Safety determines they are not likely to do so.

The Department of Public Safety would determine the rules, but likely examples are licenses to transport hazardous waste and to work as a school bus driver, security guard, and emergency first provider.

"Merely having someone on your payroll who turns out to have been a member of a terrorist group is not enough," Mr. Jacobson said. "You have to know at the time you answered the question that they're a member of a terrorist group or that they're on the State Department list."

Ohio residents applying for or trying to renew a regular driver's license would be exempt.

The first of the six questions would be: "Are you a member of an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List?"

Mr. Gamso said the question is "precisely the question we as a people are embarrassed that Sen. [Joe] McCarthy continually asked - 'Are you now or have you ever been '●" - referring to the U.S. senator from Wisconsin who was condemned by his colleagues for accusing government officials of being communists without evidence in the 1950s.

Under another section of the bill, information provided to law enforcement about vulnerabilities at chemical plants and others "critical infrastructure facilities" would be exempt from Ohio's Public Records Act.

Jack Pounds, president of the Ohio Chemistry Technological Council, said the provision would allow companies to share "threat assessments" with law enforcement without the data being released to the public.

"It would be information that will tell law enforcement how to handle any kind of disaster at their plant, where the location of the most sensitive and explosive chemicals are, and where the location of all of their security or safety systems are," Mr. Jacobson said.

Also, the bill would allow the Department of Public Safety to require phone companies to make 911 databases available to counties so that residents can be warned of an emergency.

Dubbed "reverse 911," the state, for example, could get phone numbers to warn residents in specific neighborhoods of a chemical spill from a train derailment, Mr. Jacobson said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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