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Last Updated

27 Nov 2002

Source: Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2002.

US States' Antiterror Plans Include Health, Police Powers

Dow Jones Newswires

NEW YORK (AP)--State leaders crafting new protections against terrorism are pushing for sweeping changes in police powers and public health systems, even as arguments start over costs and civil liberties.

While many states ultimately want the federal government to help with guidance and money for homeland defense, the public's demand for safety is driving lawmakers to take action in statehouses nationwide.

"The issue of dealing with domestic terrorism comes out No. 1, above education, above taxes, above everything," said Minnesota state Rep. Rich Stanek.

So far, three broad anti-terror categories have emerged: improving the public health system in case of a bioterrorist attack; strengthening law enforcement powers to track, stop and punish terrorists; and overhauling communication across all levels of government.

Stanek, a police inspector who runs one of Minneapolis' five precincts, has introduced a legislative package to expand wiretap laws, so a warrant for one suspect can cover different land phones, cell phones, and computers. He also wants new training and equipment for first-response units.

Similar changes to eavesdropping laws, modeled after a recent federal law, have been proposed in California, Maryland and New Jersey, among others. The idea won legislative approval in Illinois two months after Sept. 11 but is waiting for the governor's signature.

Other proposed changes to police powers include instituting the death penalty for terrorism in Nevada and new penalties for hoaxes in Minnesota and Maryland.

Public health proposals - driven by worries of another bioterrorist attack like last year's anthrax mailings - are gaining momentum quickly.

Academics crafted model legislation for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that's being considered in many states. It would help authorities respond to a public health emergency with rules on quarantines, mass vaccinations and safe disposal of corpses.

"We haven't looked at (these laws) since the influenza epidemic of 1918," said Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Moore, who authored a public health bill now before his state's legislature.

One change: updating the Massachusetts fine for violating a quarantine from the current $10 to a possible $10,000.

"People are taking it very seriously," said Moore, a former official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton administration. "They're seeing it as a priority even though funds are scarce."

This weekend, he'll join state and local leaders scheduled to meet in Atlanta to discuss the model legislation.

Next week, state, county and city officials are to meet with Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge to talk about security issues and Ridge's plan for a nationwide alert system.

"These meetings are constantly ongoing," said a Ridge spokesman, Gordon Johndroe. "Issues in Texas are going to be different than issues in Vermont."

Integrating and modernizing communications for fire, police and public health - as well as linking local, state and federal levels of government - is a step that Ridge, governors and lawmakers all support. While other budget cuts are being sought in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott McCallum called for a $3.6 million grant program to help local governments upgrade emergency communications.

"The first line of defense that we have is local," he said.

Some of the legal changes proposed, particularly parts of the public health bills and the expanded police powers, have drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. It says the model health legislation gives government too much leeway when it declares medical emergencies, while broader wiretapping laws can be abused.

"The privacy protections are there for a number of reasons," said Katie Corrigan, senior counsel with the ACLU in Washington. "One, for civil liberties. But also because people have more trust in the government if their privacy is protected."

Moore said many lawmakers are sensitive to those issues and predicted that public health legislation will incorporate checks and balances.

Many of the proposals demand significant spending in a year when nearly every state is dealing with an extremely tight budget. Many lawmakers are vowing to pay for homeland defense anyway, though it might mean painful cuts elsewhere.

To be successful, the antiterrorism efforts must be sustained for years, said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.

"Unfortunately, this is not a situation where you win one foreign battle in Afghanistan or pass one package of laws," he said. "I think for decades to come as a nation, we're going to have to strengthen our position in a variety of ways."