News: Prove Who You Are

New Ohio law will treat everyone as a suspect

Mar 16, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Bonnie Davis

Karen Dabdoub (left), Ohio director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Gary Daniels of the ACLU at a forum on the Ohio Patriot Act.

Ohio law soon will require people to identify themselves on demand from police officers or face 30 days in jail.

The Ohio Patriot Act, unanimously passed last week by the Ohio Senate, requires people at "terrorist-sensitive events" to give police their name, address and age. The requirement is so broad that it could include anything from Reds games to political rallies, according to Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU). He and State Sen. Mark Mallory (D-West End) discussed the bill March 6 at the University of Cincinnati.

"What could be considered a terrorist-sensitive site isn't defined," Daniels said. "I (recently) came from Columbus, where a (Ohio State University) football game was underway. One hundred thousand people were there. Wouldn't that be a potential terrorist target? I'm not a terrorist, but it sure seems like it to me."

Screening for terrorists
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can make it a criminal offense to refuse to identify yourself to police officers. Daniels raised the specter of police walking through a crowd demanding IDs and hauling people away if they forgot their wallet or chose not to bring their driver's license.

"We're allowed to go where we want without the government butting in," he said. "We aren't supposed to be a 'show me your papers' society."

The Ohio Patriot Act could have widespread implications. It requires a kind of anti-terrorist oath for certain state licenses and requires notification of federal immigration officials when undocumented foreign workers are convicted of a felony.

The bill establishes a list of six questions that could be required of applicants for any license issued by the state of Ohio — anything from a fishing license to a license to haul hazardous waste. The bill would require people to verify that they aren't providing money to any groups on the U.S. State Department's Terrorist Exclusion List. Applicants would also be asked whether they have ever engaged in terrorism. The Director of Public Safety would have authority to determine which state licenses require the questionnaire.

Terrorists aren't likely to answer truthfully, of course, but Daniels points out another problem. The onus is on contributors to monitor the list to see if a group they support is funding any of them. That, of course, assumes the organization makes available a complete list of groups they support.

"There is no distinction made between knowingly or unknowingly contributing," Daniels said.

Mallory predicted the bill would pass but urged people to contact legislators.

"This bill will pass," he said. "With the Republican majority, this bill will be passed."

In fact, the Senate passed it just three days later. Democrats dropped their opposition after some revision. Among the items removed from the bill was a ban on possession of lasers. The intention was to keep terrorists from using lasers to blind airplane pilots. At the ACLU forum, Mallory said the ban showed how poorly the bill was written.

Bill Joiner, a member of the audience, said the ban would criminalize a lot of home entertainment equipment.

"Every CD player and DVD player has a laser in it, so just owning one of those means you own a laser," he said.

Mallory said that's a perfect example to share with a legislator.

"Write a letter that says, 'Dear Senator, you're in possession of an illegal laser,' " he said. "That's one way to get their attention."

Dumbing down the colleges
Although the laser ban was removed, the Ohio Patriot Act still requires scrutiny, Daniels said.

"You need to look at the language and look at how the words are used," he said. "Vague definitions leave laws open to interpretation."

A lack of public input simply clears the way for legislation that can have serious consequences, Mallory said.

"We tend to be reactionary as politicians and government officials," he said. "So we tend to treat the symptoms and not the problems themselves."

He pointed to another proposal, the Academic Bill of Rights, or Senate Bill 24. Mallory said he hasn't heard a single word of protest from deans or students about the bill, and that concerns him.

The bill is touted as a way to ensure balance at all institutions of higher education. State and private colleges, universities and community colleges would be required to present all sides of a controversial subject raised in the classroom. If an economics professor, for example, presents information about a free market economy, he would have to give equal time to other economic structures. One problem is the bill doesn't define the topics that would fall under the requirement.

"Is there going to be a list of what's considered controversial?" asked Lisa Yunker, a member of the audience.

The Academic Bill of Rights also has no provisions for enforcement or for money or infrastructure to review and rule on the quality of a specific lecture or course syllabus, according to Mallory. Laws that are vaguely written, with no way of enforcing them, are a threat to the institutions they are supposedly helping, he said.

To avoid losing her job, a professor might choose to avoid any controversial topic, ultimately limiting and narrowing the field of study and open dialogue the bill is supposed to foster, Mallory said.

"The devil is in the details," he said. ©

Tips on Contacting Elected Officials
How do you get the attention of a busy politician? State Sen. Mark Mallory had a few recommendations:

· Write a single-page letter; anything longer is hard to read, given the volume of reading a legislator must do. While e-mail is easy, Mallory points to the effort it takes to prepare a letter and send it via U.S. Mail as an attention getter.

· Personalize your communication. Talk about your situation so the legislator has a real-life example.

· If you use a form letter, add personal comments to make it clear that you have a personal stake in the issue. Include a P.S. or a closing paragraph that includes your personal concerns.

· Visit. Schedule an appointment and be ready to talk. If the elected official isn't available, meet with his or her staff.

· Above all, "Don't assume someone else is going to do it," Mallory said.

To find your state senator, visit To find your state representative, visit Representatives.jsp.