- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday ordered every county agency to report how the USA Patriot Act will harm or benefit operations.

The board voted 5-3 to direct the agencies to conduct the study. The measure is an alternative to a resolution drafted by Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, Hunter Mill Democrat, that criticized the Patriot Act as an encroachment on constitutional rights.

Mrs. Hudgins’ resolution, which also asked Congress to allow the Patriot Act to “sunset,” or lapse, bothered most of the supervisors.

Fairfax County is one of the few local jurisdictions that hasn’t passed such a resolution about the Patriot Act.

Some of the supervisors said they were worried about taking such an action because they hadn’t read the several-hundred-page Patriot Act. Supervisors believed ordering agencies to study the effects of the federal law would give them the information they need to decide whether to support Mrs. Hudgins’ resolution.

“Clearly, there are civil libertarian concerns,” said Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat. “I’d like to have more clarity about what those are.”

Mrs. Hudgins disagreed. “I do have a concern, and I join many others who have that concern,” she said. “I want to ensure citizens in this county do not find themselves in a position where their rights are compromised.”

During the board’s meeting at the Fairfax County Government Center, about 10 persons in the auditorium held signs, some of which read: “Please keep the Bill of Rights Alive and Well for My Generation.”

Board members who voted for the substitute motion were Mr. Connolly; Sharon Bulova, Braddock District Democrat; T. Dana Kauffman, Lee District Democrat; Linda Q. Smyth, Providence District Democrat; and Joan M. DuBois, Dranesville District Republican.

Those who voted against the motion were Mrs. Hudgins; Penelope A. Gross, Mason District Democrat; and Elaine McConnell, Springfield District Republican.

Supervisors Michael R. Frey, Sully District Republican, and Gerald W. Hyland, Mount Vernon District Democrat, were absent.

The motion did not set a deadline for the county agencies to file their reports with the board.

Alexandria, Arlington County, Takoma Park, Greenbelt, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the District have passed resolutions denouncing the Patriot Act and promising to uphold the civil liberties of residents, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Passing the resolutions is a largely symbolic act, but 330 localities nationwide, including New York City, Baltimore and Philadelphia, have done so.

Most of the resolutions, including the one that was discussed by the Fairfax supervisors yesterday, urge congressional delegations to allow the Patriot Act to expire or to add congressional oversight to the act.

The growing trend isn’t likely to influence those in power at the federal level, some experts said.

“I don’t think it’s likely to have much of an impact,” said Bob Holsworth, director for the Center of Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The major decisions here on the war on terror are going to be made at a higher level. Ideological oppositions are not likely to carry that much weight.”

Activists think every bit helps.

“It’s hard to ignore it after a while,” said Aimee Perron, a legislative director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. “Congress really should look to local government to see what’s going on with the people, because local government is more in touch with the people.”

Miss Perron said the local efforts are important because the laws are enforced at the city and town level.

The movement began in early 2002 after Attorney General John Ashcroft introduced the act to fight terrorism in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The act gives authorities more power to investigate terrorism and to detain suspects.

Critics argue that the act allows for unreasonable searches and seizures and violates privacy.

Miss Perron said opposition efforts are slowly starting to work.

The Civil Liberties Restoration Act was introduced last week in Congress to repeal provisions of the Patriot Act that are said to “violate civil liberties,” to restore due process for those jailed by the government and to protect privacy. It was introduced by Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman of California and Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

In addition, members of the Texas Democratic Party are calling for the “immediate repeal” of some of the Patriot Act provisions, according to Sunday’s editions of the Houston Chronicle.

Miss Perron said the movement has been nonpartisan — with support from Republicans, Democrats, Green Party members and Libertarians. “When we talk to people about how our liberties are being eroded, people are really concerned,” she said. “We don’t want the terrorists to win in that way either.”

Some of the local resolutions are more firm in their nature. San Francisco’s resolution asks city departments and agencies not to help federal authorities in investigations that impede civil liberties, according to published reports.

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