Activists Decry Anti-Terrorism Bill
Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard
SALEM - Protesters made their way Monday from the streets of Eugene and Portland to the state Capitol, where more than 100 people gathered to speak out against anti-terrorism legislation.
Senate Bill 742 would create the crime of terrorism, loosen restrictions on police intelligence-gathering techniques and permit arrests of immigration-law violators.
Its first hearing drew a decidedly one-sided response as all of the 80 people who signed up to testify listed themselves as opponents.
After a few instances when loud murmurs and rounds of applause interrupted testimony, Senate Judiciary Chairman John Minnis, R-Wood Village, warned that he would order the room cleared if the outbursts continued. Even so, the audience bore little resemblance to the chanting, sign-waving crowds that have jammed downtowns of the two Oregon cities in recent weeks during the buildup and launch of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The Portland protests, in particular, involved actions such as breaking store windows, blocking traffic and clashing with police that could be construed as terrorism under SB 742.
And even the majority of participants who peacefully chanted, marched and waved signs could, by association, be in trouble under such a law.
Many of those who attended the hearing said their involvement in street demonstrations spurred them to speak out.
One was Jill Davidson of Eugene, who said she hasn't taken part in legislative politics before, but came to voice her fears of "a kind of McCarthyism" in the government's response to terrorism and anti-war protests.
She was among about 75 people who sat in folding chairs outside the Senate chambers, quietly watching a closed-circuit telecast of the testimony. The hearing room, one floor above, was filled to capacity.
Minnis, the bill's sponsor, said he was disappointed that so many speakers, including criminal defense and civil liberties attorneys, had used "hyperbole" to claim that his bill would allow arrests and possible life sentences for people who merely take part in a strike, rally or other demonstration that disrupts commerce, government institutions or transportation.
Although Minnis conceded that the original bill could be interpreted that way, he drafted amendments that would allow such prosecution only if people knew or "reasonably should know" that their activity could lead to death or serious injury.
Still, many of the activists who testified said they opposed the amended bill as a threat to their constitutionally protected right to demonstrate against laws, work conditions or other conditions they find objectionable. …