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Anti-Terrorism Plans Flower in Sacramento

Security: Gov. Davis, lawmakers have plenty of ideas, though federal funding is a central theme to some.

January 22, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — If the front line for defense of California against terrorism starts with Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature, a potentially costly arsenal of proposed new weapons has been unsheathed.

So far, about one dozen terrorism-related bills have been introduced, including a Davis budget that leans heavily on the disputed expectation that the federal government will cover a substantial chunk of California's anti-terrorism costs.

"The horror of Sept. 11 is seared in our hearts and minds forever," Davis told the Legislature in his State of the State speech earlier this month. In calling for protections of the California homeland, he repeated the date Sept. 11 at least 10 times.

Davis' Wiretap Proposal

Dealt Early Setback

Legislative ideas abound. For starters, one bill would have California motorists help finance the fight against terrorism and display their patriotism at the same time by purchasing Sept. 11 memorial license plates at $50 apiece.

Davis' proposed budget would vastly intensify California Highway Patrol efforts to protect people and possible structural targets by hiring 316 officers, acquiring five helicopters and buying other enforcement tools at a cost of $89.5 million in federal funds.

Other bills propose that local police, firefighters, hospitals and other emergency agencies would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid from proposed bond issues or, in one measure given little chance of passage, a full-cent increase in the statewide sales tax.

Under a plan formulated by Assembly Republicans, terrorists convicted of planting biological or other weapons of mass destruction at bridges or tunnels would face 25 years in prison. In another bill, special care would be directed to the health needs of children in case of a terrorist attack.

But for Democrat Davis, who is seeking a second term, the opening round in the Legislature was a setback. His bill (AB 74) to give local police and sheriffs the legal authority to conduct "roving" taps of the e-mail and cell phone conversations of suspected terrorists was aborted in the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week.

The author, Assemblyman Carl Washington (D-Paramount), stripped the bill's controversial eavesdropping features when he was confronted with an opinion from the Legislature's lawyer, who warned that federal law prohibits states from conducting roaming wiretaps.

Assistants said Davis would try to find another way to get at the mobile electronic communications of suspected terrorists. But Senate President pro tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said he does not expect the Legislature to enact sweeping anti-terrorism laws this year.

Burton, a liberal, argued that the federal government has mostly preempted the arena of fighting terrorism, especially criminal acts.

"The state's role is basically emergency response," Burton said, dismissing as election-year posturing the introduction of Sept. 11 proposals that have little serious chance of becoming law.

"Everybody is jumping in with stuff that is really irrelevant," he said. "I think people see it as a good political issue. I'm against terrorism and I haven't met anybody who is for terrorism."

The Senate created a special committee, headed by Republican Sen. Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz, to analyze anti-terrorism actions the U.S. government is taking and to offer proposals that would fill gaps in California.

"We are going to [produce] something with immediacy attached to it," McPherson said, noting that training emergency "responders" in how to handle various kinds of terrorist attacks is a top priority with officials of the state Office of Emergency Services. As a first step, McPherson and Burton have introduced a bill (SB 1350) to train instructors who, in turn, would train others in coping with potential acts of mass destruction, such as bioterrorism. They said the training probably could be done within existing budgets.

However, no one knows the eventual price tag of protecting the state. McPherson and others said the federal government appears to be the most likely source of financial help.

In his budget, Davis envisions a $1-billion infusion of federal aid for California, including about $350 million for security-related issues.

But nonpartisan Legislative Budget Analyst Elizabeth Hill cautioned against expecting the full amount. She did agree that some federal aid would be forthcoming, but "it is unlikely to meet expectations."

One potential source of state income is a bill (AB 1759) by Assembly Speaker-elect Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) that would create a patriotic license plate. Sales of the $50 plates would help finance anti-terrorism activities of state and local law enforcement departments and provide college scholarships for spouses and dependent children of Californians killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Legislative aides estimate that the plates could bring in $4 million to $5 million a year, with law enforcement receiving 85% and the rest going to the scholarships.

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