The debate over federal anti-terrorism law is coming to City Hall.
The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday will be asked to consider a resolution that opposes the Patriot Act and suggests city officials should "refrain" from cooperating with federal authorities enforcing it.
"We're excited about it," said Don Phipps, a member of the Kansas Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which has proposed the resolution. "We think there's a good chance the resolution will pass, but we don't know."
Four of the five commissioners have said they shared concerns about the act but wouldn't vote for a resolution that asks city employees to violate federal law.
"I don't really want to comment on that at this point," Mayor David Dunfield said Friday.
Congress passed the USA Patriot Act soon after the 9-11 attacks on the United States. It gives federal law enforcement authorities an array of expanded investigative powers, including:
- Broader wiretapping authority.
- The ability to conduct secret searches, delaying notice to criminal suspects of such searches.
- Allowing criminal investigators and intelligence officials greater authority to share information between agencies.
- Access to public libraries' records on patrons' checkout habits.
The proposed resolution would encourage police to refrain from assisting federal authorities in investigations and arrests that would violate the constitutional rights -- of free expression, for example, or to a fair trial -- of Lawrence residents.
Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin would not comment through a spokeswoman on Friday, but he indicated he would attend Tuesday's meeting.
"If the federal government wants to enter a home with a secret warrant, it really shouldn't be our police force that does the breaking and entering," Phipps said Friday.
Responding to commission comments, the committee recently added a provision that "nothing in this resolution shall be construed as to require any city employee to violate any federal law."
But there will be opposition from some high-ranking current and former federal officials.
Kris Kobach, former counsel to U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and a Republican candidate for Congress from Kansas' 3rd District, wrote commissioners last month encouraging them to reject the resolution. Local officials, he said, can't always know if federal authorities are working under the Patriot Act.
'Loss of liberties'
"The only way that a city official could be sure that he was in compliance with the (noncooperation) directive would be to refuse to assist the FBI in any terrorist case," Kobach wrote. "Such a blanket withdrawal of local assistance would be a profound disservice to the country and could potentially place Lawrence residents in danger."
U.S. Atty. Eric Melgren agreed in a letter to commissioners on Friday, saying the role of government is to "secure our liberties."
"A repeal of the Patriot Act, or a coordinated effort to thwart its provisions, would not result in greater liberty, but would result in a loss of liberty," Melgren wrote.
Phipps was skeptical.
"If the federal government can use the police and the library against its own citizens, to me it becomes a city issue," he said.