- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

RICHMOND Public safety is likely to attract more attention in the upcoming General Assembly than in any session since 1994, when legislators helped Gov. George Allen deliver on his promise to abolish parole.
The terrorist attacks returned the assembly's focus to law enforcement after years of emphasis on tax cuts, tougher school standards, welfare reform and other issues.
"Not since 1994-95 have we focused so much on criminal-justice issues," said Jerry Kilgore, the attorney general-elect. "I think we'll have a lot of bills filed by legislators throughout the commonwealth."
Mr. Kilgore, a former prosecutor who was Mr. Allen's public-safety secretary, has promised to push legislation to allow the death penalty for planners of fatal terrorist attacks. He also wants to increase penalties for other terrorism-related crimes, such as illegal possession of biological or chemical agents.
During his campaign, Gov.-elect Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, proposed creating an anti-terrorism strike force within the Division of State Police and building a new, high-tech emergency-operations command post.
Two legislators have prefiled bills to combat terrorism one to define terrorism and expand the state's wiretapping authority, the other to make "accessory after the fact" of terrorism a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The session begins Jan. 9.
Civil-liberties advocates already have criticized Congress for expanding law-enforcement surveillance powers and President Bush for pushing for military tribunals to try foreign terrorism suspects. Now they fear state lawmakers will go too far.
"If the experiences at the national level are indicators of what's to come at the state level, we ought to be extremely concerned," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia.
Delegate Clifton A. "Chip" Woodrum, Roanoke Democrat and sponsor of the bill to allow prosecutors to request a wiretap if they suspect terrorist activity, said the legislature should not move too fast.
He favors sending all the anti-terrorism legislation to the Virginia State Crime Commission for study.
"I think we need to make sure our response is measured, responsible and constitutional," he said.
Mr. Kilgore said he opposes a study, which could delay action on the bills for a year.
"I would hope we could go ahead and look at the best pieces of legislation so those bills would be in effect," Mr. Kilgore said. "Terrorism could strike again at any time, and we need to be ready. The time for action is now."
Mr. Kilgore said he is leaning toward putting all of his anti-terrorism initiatives in one large bill instead of taking a piecemeal approach. His proposals all deal with the criminal code and punishing terrorists.
Other officials are likely to champion legislation on security improvements, including a proposal to station a police officer in every middle school and high school, Mr. Kilgore said. Interest in school safety increased after a spate of school shootings in the late 1990s, and the terrorist attacks have heightened the concern.
"We're all worried about the safety of our kids, given the new threats of terrorism," Mr. Kilgore said.

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