The USA Patriot Act, which President Bush signed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to combat terrorism, passed through Congress in just a few short weeks.
Don’t expect a resolution criticizing the act to move so fast through the Columbia City Council.
After hearing a report about the act from the Human Rights Commission at Monday’s meeting, the council said it probably would not take any action because it traditionally does not take a stance on national policy issues.
Controversial since its inception, the act has been criticized by civil libertarians for what is viewed as a breach of human rights.
Formal acts of criticism have become popular as of late. According to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee Web site, www.bordc.org, four states and more than 300 cities and municipalities have officially “expressed concern” with all or portions of the act. In Missouri, St. Louis, University City and most recently Kansas City have joined the ranks.
“We have successfully taken a position, regardless of personal opinion, that we don’t really get involved in national policy issues,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said.
David Finke, one of the two members of the subcommittee for the Patriot Act, disagreed, saying that human rights issues are always local and that if people in Columbia have been adversely affected by the act, the HRC should take action by getting community input.
“The council seems to have a self-imposed gag order in terms of addressing broader issues for concern,” Finke said.
Finding people who will declare problems with the act isn’t easy, which is why Finke and his fellow subcommittee member, Michael Blum, would like to hold public hearings to see who has been affected.
“Overall we think the Patriot Act is un-American, but we don’t want to presume that we know what is best for Columbia,” Blum said before Monday’s meeting.
Finke made it emphatically clear that neither he nor Blum would do anything with the issue without the Human Rights Commission’s support.
It isn’t likely the duo will receive support from the council to hold public hearings, however, but it could still move forward without council support.
Both Hindman and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless said if public hearings were held it could create a false impression of hope for those involved because it is highly unlikely the council will take any action with the information.
“I think if the commission is going to invest time in hearings, we should honor that investment by taking their considerations seriously,” Loveless said. “Commissions should have a reasonable expectation that councils will act upon their recommendations. That is unlikely in this situation.”