HELENA - Montana lawmakers overwhelmingly passed what its sponsor called the nation's most strongly worded criticism of the federal Patriot Act on Friday, uniting politicians of all stripes.
The resolution, which already galloped through the Senate and passed the House 88-12 Friday, must survive a final vote before it officially passes.
Senate Joint Resolution 19, sponsored by Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, says that while the 2005 Legislature supports the federal government's fight against terrorism, the so-called Patriot Act of 2001 granted authorities sweeping powers that violate citizens' rights enshrined in both the U.S. and Montanan constitutions.
The resolution, which does not carry the weight of a law but expresses the Legislature's opinion, encourages Montana law enforcement agencies not to participate in investigations authorized under the Patriot Act that violate Montanans' constitutional rights. It requests all libraries in the state to post a sign warning citizens that under the Patriot Act, federal agents may force librarians to turn over a record of books a person has checked out and never inform that citizen of the request.
The resolution asks Montana's attorney general to review any state intelligence information and destroy it if is not tied directly to suspected criminals. It also asks the attorney general to find out how many Montanans have been arrested under the Patriot Act and how many people have been subject to so-called "sneak and peaks," or government searches of a person's property without the person's knowledge.
Elliott, a Democrat and rancher from northwestern Montana, sponsored the resolution, but it garnered support from Republicans on the far right of the political spectrum.
"Sometimes we just take liberty for granted in the country," said Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, who keeps a plant called "the Liberty Tree" on his legislative desk.
Koopman said his Liberty Tree was "blooming for this bill."
"Frankly, what it says to me is that civil liberties are a bipartisan issue in Montana," said Rep. Rick Maejde, R-Trout Creek, who led the House debate for the resolution.
Elliott said he was "very, very pleased" the resolution had such support.
"Montana isn't the first state that passed a resolution, but this resolution is the strongest statement against the constitutional violations of the Patriot Act of any state and almost every city or county," he said.
Twelve representatives - all Republicans - voted against the measure, including Rep. Bob Lake, R-Hamilton.
"I don't like resolutions because they do absolutely nothing," he said in an interview after the vote. He also said the resolution was too vague. Is it a sacrifice of personal liberty to not be able to take a gun on an airplane? he asked. Is that the kind of thing this resolution objects to?
"So, they're going to get this thing back in D.C. and say, 'O.K., Montana doesn't like what we're doing. So what?,' " he said. "It has no meaning to it."
By JENNIFER McKEE Gazette State Bureau