- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We’re happy to report that Democratic homeland-security point-man Bennie Thompson is now on board with terrorism-tipster legislation. Yesterday, we criticized Mr. Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, for opposing legislation to protect terrorism tipsters from civil lawsuits. In today’s Letters section, Mr. Thompson gets behind the tipster-immunity proposal advanced by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, which is much the same as the measure he previously opposed.

This is great and important news. This measure ensures that ordinary citizens can continue to act upon the government’s “REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY” urgings without risking legal trouble. And since Mr. Thompson was the last top-ranking lawmaker in the House and Senate homeland-security committees to oppose it, that leaves Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer without significant committee support if they somehow try to pressure conferees against the idea. A majority of the House supports it — Rep. Peter King’s measure passed by a 302-121 margin in March.

On the House floor, Mr. Thompson had called the legislation a path to racial and religious profiling, which led us to expect that he would try to strip it from the bill once it enters conference. If that were to happen, tipsters like the Fort Dix Circuit City clerk would face significant disincentives. Think about it for a moment. The government would be urging tipsters to talk and condoning legal retaliation against them simultaneously.

But the measure Mr. Thompson endorses in today’s letter is a welcome protection against that.

We commend him for his sensible reconsideration of the issue. We do need to mention that the contention that these two bills were appreciably different to begin with is not accurate. Mr. Thompson argues in today’s letter that the original measure, which passed the House with many Democratic supporters, offers “blanket immunity” to bad-faith tipsters. But its disclaimer reads: Immunity “shall not apply to a statement or disclosure by a person that, at the time it is made, is known by the person to be false.” The Pearce-Collins bill has almost identical language. The difference is that the Pearce-Collins language sticks the phrase “in good faith” into the lead sentence. The King bill didn’t include this cherry on top, which is already covered in its disclaimer.

No matter; this reversal is very good news. As the transportation-security bill moves to conference, we urge all the conferees — as of yet unnamed, but likely to include Mr. Thompson — to defend the principle of tipster immunity. If Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer have a rationale for opposing it, they should explain it. No serious person can understand what it might be.

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