By M. Jane Taylor and T.M. Hartmann
WASHINGTON – With the help of six of seven Maryland members, the House passed a bill Thursday that would attempt to prevent terrorism and restrict appeals of death row inmates.
The anti-terrorism bill passed, 293 – 133, with bi-partisan support and now goes to President Clinton for his signature. The Senate passed it Wednesday night.
The only Maryland congressman to oppose it was Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn of Largo.
Word from the White House is that Clinton will probably sign it.
Vice President Gore told a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors that it is not the bill the administration wanted, but it will work for the time being.
Moved on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the measure gives greater powers to federal law enforcement officials to help prevent domestic and international terrorism and punish those guilty of it.
The bill includes a provision to strengthen the death penalty for terrorist crimes resulting in the death of an American citizen.
It also makes it easier for the government to deport illegal aliens who have engaged in terrorist activity.
And it allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign states that have committed terrorist acts.
The legislation also follows through on the Republican’s “Contract with America” provision to reform habeas corpus law – or the ability of the federal courts to review cases tried by the states. The bill limits the federal appeals that death row prisoners may make on the constitutionality of their cases.
Many who opposed the bill said they did so because of that provision.
“Conservatives have gone too far on habeas corpus,” Wynn said. “Given instances of police corruption, I think you always want to have some form of federal review.”
Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick voted “yes,” but said he had concerns about the bill and whether the habeas corpus revisions would be abused. “Now we’ll see if this is used to limit the rights of citizens,” Bartlett said.
He said Congress is “making a statement that we’re concerned about international terrorism.” But, he said, “the good barely overbalances the negatives.”
Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest of Kennedyville said he supported the habeas corpus provision. “The courts won’t be tied up with frivolous appeals,” he said.
But Gilchrest said the bill is not strict enough. He said it does not provide for expanded wire tapping of suspected terrorist communications – a provision he said was taken out of an earlier version.
Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich of Lutherville said he also supports the habeas corpus provision.
“There comes a point when you have to be satisfied that constitutional requirements are met,” Ehrlich said. He said there have been “endless appeals on fruitless grounds.”
Ehrlich also said he liked the provision to make it easier to deport illegal aliens who have engaged in terrorist activity. He said he did not think they deserve constitutional protection. -30-