- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

Congressional Democrats yesterday declined to protect tipsters who report suspicious behavior from nuisance lawsuits.

“This is a slap in the face of good citizens who do their patriotic duty and come forward, and it caves in to radical Islamists,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Republicans tried to write the protection provision included in final homeland security legislation, crafted yesterday by a House and Senate conference committee, to implement final recommendations from the September 11 commission.

Mr. King and Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, sponsored the provision after a group of Muslim imams filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against US Airways and unknown “John Doe” passengers. The imams were removed from US Airways Flight 300 on Nov. 20 after fellow passengers on the Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight complained about the imams’ suspicious behavior.

On March 27, the House approved the “John Doe” amendment on a 304-121 vote.

“Democrats are trying to find any technical excuse to keep immunity out of the language of the bill to protect citizens, who in good faith, report suspicious activity to police or law enforcement,” Mr. King said. “I don’t see how you can have a homeland security bill without protecting people who come forward to report suspicious activity.”

While the conference is not likely to meet again, Mr. King noted the conference report has not been written and says he will continue discussions with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, to insert the “John Doe” language.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the committee, announced afterward she would attempt to attach a similar bill to an education measure being debated on the Senate floor. However, the measure was rejected in a late-night vote. After some last-minute arm-twisting by Democrats, the “John Doe” measure got 57 yes votes to 39 votes against, three votes shy of the two-thirds supermajority required under Senate rules because it was not directly related to the underlying educational funding bill.

Democratic leaders held a press conference with members of the September 11 commission just prior to the conference meeting but did not address the fate of the provision.

“We have always said that any discussion of September 11 in any way, shape or form would be made on sacred ground, with reverence to those who were lost,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“We promised you answers, and we promised you a safer America. Hopefully, this legislation will fulfill the rest of the promise,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, initially opposed the legislation, expressing concern that it would lead to racial profiling.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, yesterday warned Democrats of a public backlash if the “John Doe” provision is removed.

“That language was put into this bill with broad bipartisan support making it clear that having Americans protected from silly lawsuits if they notice suspicious behavior and report it is just plain common sense,” Mr. Boehner said. “And why would they remove that language, and I think they are asking for serious trouble if the language is in fact taken out.”

Mr. Pearce said Democrats made a choice as to “whether they are going to side with the American people or with the terrorists.”

Florida Rep. Adam H. Putnam, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said failure to enact the provision will hold “the threat of endless litigation over the heads of the American people.”

“Democrats are discouraging citizens from reporting suspicious behavior. And that, simply, leaves America vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” Mr. Putnam said.

The imams’ lawsuit, seeking unspecified monetary damages, also names the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission. Their claims include false arrest; negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress; defamation; failure to train; conspiracy to discriminate; and negligence.

Mr. Thompson said the conference on the homeland security legislation has been “bipartisan and bicameral.”

“When the 9/11 terrorists attacked us, they really don’t ask whether we are black, white, red, yellow. They just want to hurt Americans,” Mr. Thompson said.

The legislation adds personnel, equipment and funding for aviation and surface transportation security and 100 percent screening for cargo on passenger planes and containers. It also redefines how homeland security grants will be distributed.

“No longer will popcorn factories and abandoned dirt bike trails be considered paramount to national security,” Mr. Thompson said.

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