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Toss it out

Terrorism bill isn't necessary, and could do more harm than good

The world has become a more dangerous place since Sept. 11, 2001. Fear of further terrorist attacks is entirely warranted and, in our view, understandable, especially in light of the war against Iraq.

But if the fear of terrorism is allowed to overwhelm common sense, the danger to American freedoms is every bit as great as the threat to Americans' safety and security. SB 742, an anti-terrorism bill being considered in Salem, is a prime example.

The measure would create the crime of terrorism, punished by life imprisonment. A terrorist would be defined as someone who participates or carries out any violent act that the person knows, or should reasonably know, could result in the death or serious physical injury of a person and is intended by at least one participant to substantially disrupt or destroy assembly, commerce, transportation or educational or government institutions.

Whew.

Taking a step back and a deep breath, it is possible to conjure a scenario in which an idealistic young woman, demonstrating against a war she believes to be morally wrong, is swept up in a mob that disrupts a high school or a college. In the heat of the moment, she and other participants toss rocks through a window ' a violent act.

One of the rocks strikes someone inside the building, seriously injuring or even killing them.

Did at least one participant intend the demonstration to disrupt the school? Of course. Should the young woman reasonably have known that someone might be hurt or killed in the rock-throwing? Sure.

That's it, then. The young woman is a terrorist under Oregon law. Lock her up for the rest of her life.

Is that what Oregonians want? We don't want to think so.

Should the young woman face consequences for her actions? Of course. But life behind bars?

Even if the bill is eventually spruced up with clearer definitions and language, we wonder whether it is necessary at all.

Oregon already has laws ' plenty of them ' against acts that injure or kill other people. They're called assault, arson and murder, to name a few. They are very clearly defined. And there are precise punishments for these crimes that are anything but lenient.

If Oregon had experienced a rash of violent acts whose perpetrators couldn't be prosecuted because the acts weren't against the law, we would be the first to demand action from the Legislature. We certainly haven't seen any evidence of that.

This bill is a solution in search of a problem. Lawmakers should toss it aside and concentrate on more important things.

Carry on

One land-use watchdog group has disbanded because of a legal judgment it can't afford to pay, but another has been created to take its place. We think that's a good thing.

Friends of Jackson County will take up where the Jackson County Citizens League left off. The new group's purpose will be to monitor local government compliance with state land-use laws.

Watchdog groups like the Citizens League and the Friends of Jackson County can be a positive factor in the health of governments they monitor.

There certainly is a reason for an organization to be out there and even scrutinize what government has done, said County Commissioner Jack Walker.

Walker, often a critic of land-use restrictions, is right. Government operates better when citizens pay close attention to what it's doing.