Bioterrorism Bill Passes with Amendments

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee has given its unanimous approval to a new terrorism bill. But the legislation has been scaled back to meet the concerns of civil libertarians.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When Governor Howard Dean delivered his State of the State address at the beginning of January, Dean urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would give the state more options to prosecute people who engage in terrorist activities in Vermont.

The bill originally had several sections. It enhanced penalties for crimes like arson or murder that were motivated by terrorism, it created new crimes for acts of bioterrorism and it allowed the state to freeze the assets of convicted terrorists.

The provision calling for tougher sentences for crimes related to terrorism was strongly opposed by the Vermont Civil Liberties Union and it was dropped from the bill when the Judiciary Committee became deadlocked over the issue.

Essex Orleans Senator Vincent Illuzzi was one the senators who objected to this part of the bill:

(Illuzzi) “It attempted to criminalize motive. What’s going through the thought process of your head and generally the criminal law addresses actions that a person takes so under the guise of 9/11. I saw us taking a significant step backwards in how we as a society have organized ourselves through the criminal law.”

(Kinzel) The only part of the bill that remains is the section dealing with bioterrorism. Committee Chairman Dick Sears thinks it’s still worth passing the legislation:

(Sears) “We felt this issue of weapons of mass destruction which would [include] anthrax and any of those biological weapons, was most important for us to have some way of dealing with. And the report from the Health Department was very good and I think it’ll help protect Vermonters.”

(Kinzel) The measure could be on the Senate floor for a vote by the end of the week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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