Anti-terrorism bill draws Democrat, GOP opponents

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A bill that would tighten the state’s anti-terrorism laws brought together in opposition a rare coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

The legislation on its way to Gov. Bob Taft would for the first time in Ohio allow a police officer to arrest anyone in a public place who refuses to provide name, address and date of birth when asked, even if they have done nothing wrong.

Police would have to suspect the person has either committed a crime or is about to commit a crime or has witnessed a serious crime such as murder. Officers now can arrest someone if they suspect the person had committed a crime, but they can’t force the person to identify himself.

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Eight Republicans joined 15 Democrats in opposing the bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support last week.

Bill supporters say the legislation beefs up the state’s ability to respond to terrorism while civil liberties groups worry it goes too far.

Republicans voting against the legislation included Ron Hood of Ashville, whose conservative positions include eliminating the payment of union-scale wages on public construction projects, a stance taken by few fellow Republicans and no Democrats.

Democrats included Michael Skindell of suburban Cleveland, who opposed last year’s Republican-backed gay-marriage ban.

In a similar case of odd political bedfellows, some Republicans found rare common ground with Democrats last year when they agreed to a bill that would have required the state to study whether Ohio’s capital punishment law is fair. The bill died in the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans appear to be opposing the latest bill for different reasons, with Democrats concerned about civil liberties in general and Republicans expressing a specific fear of more government intrusion, said political analyst Karen Beckwith.

‘‘The logic is different, but from those two different logics one can get the same position,’’ said Beckwith, a political science professor at the College of Wooster. ‘‘It doesn’t mean they’re violating their own ideological perspective, nor does it mean they’ve shifted to an understanding of the position in a way their traditional opponents understand it.’’

The bill also would require state officials to notify federal immigration authorities when an illegal alien is convicted of a crime. It would require the state to develop questionnaires to determine if an applicant for a state job, contract or license has supported organizations on the federal list of known terrorists.

Skindell said many parts of the bill ‘‘go beyond what is necessary to fight any threat of terrorism and fail to strike the proper balance between keeping us safe and protecting our individual liberties.’’

For Hood, the bill raises concerns about ‘‘Gestapo-style’’ tactics and government officials demanding to see people’s papers.

‘‘We fought wars over government becoming too big, too powerful and too intrusive in the lives of folks,’’ Hood said.

The vote shows that Republicans and Democrats are often closer than people think, said Jeffrey Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ohio chapter and an opponent of the bill.

Instead of taking similar positions more often, however, ‘‘they let their partisanship and party loyalty and party discipline drive them further apart,’’ Gamso said.

The right and the left can share concerns about government and personal privacy, added Michael Taylor, vice president of the National Fraternal Order of Police and a former Ohio FOP official who supported the bill.

While police backed this legislation, they would be the first to oppose too much government prying, he said.

‘‘Police officers are citizens too,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘We don’t want cameras looking into our house or watching our every move either.’’

Andrew Welsh-Huggins is a statehouse correspondent for the Ohio Associated Press’ Columbus bureau.