NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Adopting More Measured Approach To Antiterrorism Legislation

March 27, 2002

In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, some state legislatures flew into a frenzy to pass anti-terrorism laws. New York's legislature, for example, passed what the governor's office called the toughest package of antiterrorism laws in the nation -- and did so within a week, without any hearings or amendments.

But things have since quieted down somewhat.

  • State lawmakers and civil libertarians report there is now a greater willingness to narrow or reject expansions of government power.
  • Florida's legislature even killed some antiterrorism initiatives it had passed only weeks before, and California and Washington state killed proposals to expand state wiretapping laws.
  • At the heart of debate in many states is a definition of terrorism that includes, among other things, a phrase to "influence the policy of a government" -- which civil libertarians contend is so broad as to allow acts of civil disobedience to be prosecuted as terrorism.
  • But some states -- including Florida, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia -- have adopted broader language over the objections of civil libertarians.

Nevertheless, as Kary Moss, director of the Michigan's American Civil Liberties Union, observes, "as more time passes, across the political spectrum, voices are saying, 'Whoa.'"

Source: Robert Gavin, "Frenzy to Adopt Terrorism Laws Starts to Recede," Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2002.


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