Alaska has joined a growing national rebellion against the USA Patriot Act, voting to oppose the massive federal anti-terrorism law passed by Congress soon after Sept. 11, 2001.
The state Legislature used some of the strongest language yet in passing a resolution condemning USA Patriot, following the lead of Hawaii and 112 cities, towns and counties around the country that have passed similar resolutions against the law.
But Alaska's measure goes further than most, advising police and other state agencies not to "initiate, participate in, or assist or cooperate with an inquiry, investigation, surveillance or detention" if there is not "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Alaska State law."
"We have a concern that [the Patriot Act] could be abused. The potential for abuse is too great," said Rep. David Guttenberg, a Democrat who co-sponsored the resolution. "America is an open state. There's a cost to that. Where are we willing to sacrifice for that? Guys are dying on the battlefield to protect our freedoms. It's up to us to protect those freedoms here at home."
"We hope that a resolution like this, with the bipartisan support that it has, will urge Congress to re-examine the provisions of the USA Patriot Act that challenge the individual freedoms that make this country great," said Rep. John Coghill, a Republican from North Pole who co-sponsored the resolution. "If we sacrifice our freedom, we let terrorism win."
The resolution also says that "the Alaska State Legislature implores the United States Congress to correct provisions in the USA Patriot Act and other measures that infringe on civil liberties, and opposes any pending and future federal legislation to the extent that it infringes on Americans' civil rights and liberties."
Other local government resolutions have ranged from mild expressions of discomfort with the powers that the federal law gives law enforcement to orders to local police and other personnel not to assist federal agents in investigations, if it seems those investigations violate individuals' civil rights.
The Alaskan measure passed in the state House, with 27 Republicans and 13 Democrats, by a vote of 32-1. It passed 19-0 in the Senate Wednesday. There are 12 Republicans and eight Democrats in the state Senate.
Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican from Anchorage, was the only legislator to vote against the resolution in either house. He said the job of evaluating the Patriot Act should be left to the state's congressional delegation.
"They have the information they need and the moxy to find anything that needs to be corrected in that law and to correct them." he said. "We just don't have the information that we need here."
He said that he doesn't believe the Patriot Act is perfect, but he feels that some extraordinary measures are needed to protect the country from terrorist threats.
"We just elevated the attack status up to orange and I think we need to keep some common sense measures in place to protect people from terrorism," said Lynn, a retired Air Force officer and a Vietnam War veteran. "I don't think we need to be second-guessing President Bush."
After Gov. Frank Murkowski signs the resolution to acknowledge that he has read it, copies will be sent to President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the Alaska congressional delegation, Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, all Republicans.