Column: Anti-terrorism efforts deserve attention, support

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 16, 2002

Since Sept.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Since Sept. 11, our nation seems to have adopted a whole new language. Today, we can’t turn on the news without hearing a barrage of wartime buzzwords: Homeland security, bioterrorism, first responders, and so forth. I’d like to take this opportunity to update you – in plain English -&160;on what is actually being done to improve our public safety.

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A Senate anti-terrorism package has been in the works for months. Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the Crime Prevention Committee began meeting with Department of public safety and health commissioners to gauge the degree to which Minnesota is prepared to handle major emergencies and state security threats.

Using the testimony from commissioners, epidemiologists, and the &uot;first responders&uot; (police, state troopers, firefighters and EMTs), the Senate bill focuses on augmenting emergency management and increasing penalties for terrorist activities -&160;without duplicating the issues already dealt with by the federal &uot;Patriot Act.&uot; Under our proposed state security package:

– Anyone who commits an act of terrorism that causes a death will be charged with first degree murder – punishable by life in prison without release;

– To address bioterrorism concerns, two new crimes are created: Possessing or using biological agents, toxic chemicals or toxins will result in up to 25 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine; and causing evacuation or disruption by threatening to use a biological agent – even if the substance is later determined to be fake – will be punished by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine;

– Grants are provided for disaster management equipment and personnel training for emergency response teams;

Brings the total number of groups who are trained and equipped to handle hazardous materials – &uot;hazmat teams&uot; – in Minnesota up to five, including a new team in St. Cloud;

– A new crime is created for falsely reporting an act of terrorism. By cutting back on hoaxes and misinformation, law enforcement will have more time and staff to address serious threats;

– My initiative funding an 800 mhz radio system for Rochester, Albert Lea, Austin, St. Cloud and other rural communities was included. This radio system, already established in the metro area, is a crucial public safety tool that enables all branches of emergency personnel and law enforcement to communicate simultaneously. The project is estimated to cost $37 million, and the source of funding has not yet been determined.

I would prefer bonding for as many of the anti-terrorism projects as possible. These worthy efforts should definitely rate high on our statewide priority list this year.

In other anti-terrorism efforts, I have proposed a new &uot;United We Stand&uot; license plate featuring a U.S. flag or the Statue of Liberty. Similar to the highly successful wildlife plates currently available, citizens could purchase these patriotic plates for an extra $50. This added fee is estimated to raise $2.5 million a year, which would be split between our state’s homeland security efforts and national bounties for wanted terrorists. Thirty other states have already adopted similar licence-plate funding programs.

The public’s renewed patriotism and support for government leaders and our nation is a beautiful side effect of an ugly tragedy. This new faith, however, should not be blind. You have a right to know exactly what the state is doing. If you have questions or advice on any of these proposals, please feel free to contact me by phone at (651) 296-9248 or by e-mail at sen.grace.schwab