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Archive for Monday, March 29, 2004

City plans careful criticism of Patriot Act

Commission to balance voicing its disapproval with upholding law

March 29, 2004

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The Lawrence City Commission apparently is moving closer to adopting a resolution criticizing the federal Patriot Act.

"I think we'll see it on our agenda in the next few weeks," Commissioner David Schauner said.

Schauner said that he had been meeting with Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss to come up with wording for the resolution.

They're choosing their words carefully because commissioners aren't interested in approving an act that tells city employees to violate federal law, Schauner said.

"I think the goal of the rework was to give a statement of principles," he said, "but we won't instruct our staff to violate the law."

That won't be entirely satisfactory to the Lawrence Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the group that originally asked the commission to approve an anti-Patriot Act resolution.

"I think the biggest question the City Commission hasn't grappled with is who controls our police department -- the taxpayers or the FBI," said Don Phipps, a member of the committee. "I think they've sidestepped that."

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. It gives federal law enforcement authorities an array of expanded investigative powers, including:

The Lawrence committee's proposed resolution would have encouraged police and library officials 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.

But a majority of commissioners, during a public hearing in February, said they didn't want to put city employees in the position of not cooperating with federal authorities.

Phipps said last week that issue wasn't going away.

"It may not be resolved with the Patriot Act resolution, but our group will keep looking at it," he said.

After the City Commission acts, Phipps said, the committee will take the resolution to the Douglas County Commission and Kansas Legislature.

"It's an ongoing process," he said.

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