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Published: Saturday, 4/15/2006

ACLU sues over Ohio s Patriot Act


COLUMBUS The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio yesterday marked the effective date of Ohio s version of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act by challenging a court s attempt to implement part of the law.

The suit was filed before the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of lawyer Marc Triplett. He objected to the Bellefontaine Municipal Court s requirement that he sign a form declaring that he has not assisted or supported a terrorism-related organization as a condition of receiving court appointments to represent indigent defendants.

The court challenge does not go as far as challenging the law itself, but rather what it characterizes as the Ohio General Assembly s unconstitutional application of it to the practice of law, which is regulated by the Supreme Court.

Sadly, this is perhaps not the forum to debate whether an actual terrorist confronted with that declaration would decide that risking a felony by lying would be too grave a consequence, wrote ACLU Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso of Toledo in the complaint.

Nor is this the occasion to wonder at the need to prevent terrorists from defending persons charged with misdemeanor assault or driving with a prohibited breath alcohol concentration if those persons happen to be indigent, he wrote.

The law passed the Ohio House and Senate overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. It requires anyone seeking certain licenses or government jobs, contracts, or business worth $100,000 or more a year to sign the declaration.

The form questions whether the applicant has ever been a member of an organization on the federal Terrorist Exclusion List; supported, financially assisted, or recruited for such a group, or hired someone who had.

Lying on the form would constitute a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in jail.

This is preventative, said Greg Saul, aid to the bill s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Vandalia).

If it s uncovered that they re involved in a plot but the attack hasn t been carried out yet, you could charge them with lying on the questionnaire, he said. The whole goal is to prevent them from carrying out an attack.

The licensing provision does not apply to driving, hunting, fishing, or other routine licenses, but rather to certain licenses dealing with check cashiers, aircraft registration, emergency response personnel, food inspection, public water system operation, charitable solicitation, and the handling of hazardous materials, pesticides, fertilizers, fireworks, and other explosives.

Ian Ross, planner for the Ohio Department of Public Safety s Homeland Security Division, said the state looked at 256 agencies that issue licenses and ultimately narrowed them to 20 agencies issuing 64 licenses.

These were the ones that posed the greatest risk, he said.

The law also allows police to demand the name, address, and birth date of anyone suspected of a felony or believed to have witnessed one as well as to request identification from anyone inside or outside critical transportation locations such as airports, bus terminals, and train stations.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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