Saturday, August 24, 2002

Public not privy to terrorism information

'Security record' research to be exempt from open records law

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS - State and business leaders are compiling a list of potential high-tech terrorism targets, but the public won't see the results.

        The state's new anti-terrorism law exempts anything defined as a “security record” from Ohio's open records law. The legislation was one of seven bills introduced immediately after Sept. 11.

        Information now is flowing more freely, said Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, head of the state's security task force.

        Businesses had assumed that anything they gave the government became public information, she said.

        “How smart is that - to identify your vulnerabilities, identify your plans for dealing with those vulnerabilities and then have that out there for people who would wreak havoc on their industries individually or collectively?” Ms. O'Connor asked.

        The law also exempts minutes of the security task force from the open records law.

        “This is yet another one of those examples of the danger in how far you overreact and what you have done to the principles of open government,” said Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

        The association lobbied the bill's sponsor, Sen. Robert Spada, a Republican from Parma, to make sure the exemptions were as narrow as possible. They exclude architectural drawings, for example.

        Another bill - signed by Gov. Bob Taft Nov. 20 - increases what the state pays to make up the difference between state workers' military pay and normal salaries.

        Yet another other gives National Guard members and reservists more time to pay their property taxes.

        Although Mr. Taft signed the anti-terrorism bill May 15, its impact is symbolic for now: federal law would supersede Ohio law. It defines acts of terrorism and increases the penalties and was needed, supporters said, because the law previously only mentioned terrorism.

        Lawmakers also increased penalties for people convicted of perpetrating hoaxes involving supposed weapons of mass destruction - such as last fall's anthrax hoaxes.

        A House Republican bill to exempt the military income of reservists and Ohio National Guard members from Ohio's income tax stalled because of concerns about its cost.

        A legislative analysis said it could cost Ohio as much as $3 million last year and $4 million this year.

        Other proposals still in committee: a bill to create “National Defense” license plates, a bill to make Sept. 11 “911 Emergency Services Day,” and a bill to allow Ohioans to make donations to the Red Cross at Bureau of Motor Vehicle registrar offices.


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