The Minnesota House has passed a sweeping anti-terrorism bill that toughens penalties and funds new equipment and training for law enforcement. Opponents say the bill goes too far, while supporters say the restrictions are necessary to protect public safety.
The bill uses $22 million from the state's tobacco endowments to pay for equipment and training for law enforcement who would respond to a terrorist attack. The bill also restricts public access to certain meetings and information, expands the state's wiretapping authority and establishes new crimes of terrorism. Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty - who's also running for governor - says the measures are necessary in the wake of Sept. 11.
"We are at war. President Bush and the others have called upon the nation to rally around these efforts to fight war, internationally and domestically. And this bill goes a long ways toward getting Minnesota on the right track," says Pawlenty.
Many lawmakers responded to the patriotic appeal, voting 94-39 for the bill. Opponents argued it will infringe on civil liberties. One of the most contentious provisions would require color-coded driver's licenses for immigrants who are in the country on temporary visas. Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, called the measure offensive.
"We live in a racist society. And in a racist society, when you do this - when you put a badge, when you put an identifying marker on someone - all you're doing is encouraging folks to come out with the worst in human behavior," says Mariani.
The bill's authors say the measure shouldn't lead to discrimination. They say the state already issues color-coded licenses to truck drivers and people under age 21. Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove - who is also a Minneapolis police officer - says every state is considering changes in drivers license requirements.
"Color-coding that license, so that law enforcement clearly knows if somebody's here on a short term status and when their visa expires, is critical," Stanek says.
House Republicans rejected most DFL attempts to remove various elements of the bill, and to change the funding source from anti-smoking money to the state's cash flow account.
The anti-terrorism bill moving through the Senate funds equipment and training through an increase in the 911 surcharge, that appears on every phone customer's bill. The bill is headed to the Senate floor. Its author, Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, says the funding mechanism will be contentious once the legislation gets to conference committee.
"I believe that the Senate has a very strong record of opposing using tobacco endowment money, and I certainly - as the author in the Senate - will not be supporting that mechanism," Ranum says.
Ranum's bill does not contain some of the controversial House measures, such as the color-coded driver's license for immigrants. It will be debated on the Senate floor in the next few days.More from MPR