- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate is pushing legislation to protect Americans from being sued for reporting to authorities suspicious activity that may lead to a terrorist attack.

“If you see something, you should say something, and not have to worry about being sued,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

The measure was introduced in the Senate late Friday and is sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Mr. Kyl and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the panel’s ranking Republican.

“Since 2001, when we were struck on our own shores by Islamist terrorists, the idea has taken hold that everyone needs to be alert to possible terrorist incidents,” said Mr. Lieberman, a member of the Democratic caucus.

The legislation will give immunity from civil lawsuits in federal and state courts to citizens who report suspicious activity to appropriate law-enforcement and transport- ation-system officials. The bill would not protect individuals who knowingly make false statements.

A House version introduced yesterday is sponsored by Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican; Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee; and Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican.

“In a post-9/11 reality, passenger vigilance is essential to security. If we fail to protect passengers that report suspicious behavior, it would be a huge victory for terrorists,” Mr. King said.

The bills are in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams who are suing as “John Does” any yet-unknown passengers who reported the suspicious behavior that resulted in the imams’ removal from a flight. The imams are also suing US Airways and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“It is a sad commentary that this kind of common sense has to be written into law, but we must make it clear to America’s enemies that they cannot exploit our system of justice,” Mr. Pearce said.

Added Mr. Shuster: “No American should be forced to second-guess a decision to alert authorities that could save the lives of others.”

Lawmakers are increasing the pressure because of last week’s arrest of six Muslim terror suspects in New Jersey after an initial tip from a Circuit City clerk revealed they planned to kill soldiers at Fort Dix.

“Law-enforcement officials have noted that their investigation was triggered by an alert clerk’s report that a customer had brought in a video that showed men firing weapons and shouting in Arabic, which reminded him of the 9/11 terrorists,” Miss Collins said. “Protecting citizens who make good-faith reports of potentially lethal activities is essential to maintaining our homeland security.”

The stand-alone legislation is intended to pressure House Democrat leaders to protect similar legislation that Republicans slipped into a rail and transportation safety bill using a procedural motion. Democrats have threatened to strip the measure, something they could do anonymously in a House-Senate conference committee, because they say Republicans are abusing the process.

One House Republican leadership aide said getting Mr. Lieberman’s support is essential to press for final passage.

“House Democrats have not exhibited the nonpartisan common sense Senator Lieberman is known for when it comes to national security and defense matters,” the aide said. “His position certainly gives us an upper hand in conference negotiations.

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