Monday, January 28, 2002
Local Law Enforcement Officials Endorse Proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
State Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg and local law enforcement officials came together Friday to support a state assembly bill that would add more teeth to California’s already existing terrorism laws to include biological agents and aircraft as weapons of mass destruction and toughen penalties for those convicted of using those weapons.
Authored by Hertzberg, AB 1838 would make using a weapon of mass destruction, including biological agents, aircraft, vessels, or vehicles, a serious felony that cannot be plea bargained, punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole. Murder caused by a weapon of mass destruction would be an automatic first-degree murder under the proposed legislation.
“I think this is a warning to all people taking advantage of American freedoms,” Sheriff Lee Baca said at the Los Angeles Police Academy. “If you think you can cause the kind of damage we saw in New York, think twice.”
The new law would also add bioengineered microorganisms, viruses and infectious substances to the list of restricted biological agents if they cause death or disease. This is currently not a crime.
The bill, which was introduced Thursday, was sponsored by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and co-sponsored by Sheriff Lee Baca and Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks.
“AB 1838 will add new muscle to California’s contribution to the national homeland security effort,” Cooley said.
Anyone convicted of using a weapon of mass destruction to damage or disrupt the water or food supply would face life in prison rather than the current 12-year maximum.
The bill defines a weapon of mass destruction as anything that causes widespread illness or injury, or that damages existing food supplies, water sources, crops, animal stock or public national resources.
Under AB 1838 it would be a crime to unlawfully possess and use new deadly germs and viruses engineered through biological advances.
Using a fake weapon of mass destruction with the intention of causing public fear and panic would carry a maximum penalty of seven years in state prison, under the proposed legislation.
Hertzberg said the new bill is a follow-up to his 1999 bill that was co-authored by Assemblyman Richard Alarcon, D-Los Angeles, after a series of anthrax threats forced the evacuation and temporary closure of several public buildings in the San Fernando Valley.
That bill, AB 140, allows prosecutors to pursue felony charges for threats involving weapons of mass destruction, punishable by up to 6 years in prison. Before AB 140 was enacted making a terrorist threat was only punishable as a misdemeanor.
The current legislation also contains provisions against the development or use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, mirroring many of the anti-terrorism provisions already in federal law, but it does not include other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.
Parks said the proposed bill closed some loopholes in Hertzberg’s 1999 bill and helped foster cooperation between local and state agencies to prepare for emergencies.
“It’s one more piece of the puzzle for preparedness,” Parks said. “It gives another tool to all of our law enforcement agencies and prosecuting agencies.”
While the new additions to California’s anti-terrorism stance may not prevent those who are bent on destroying themselves while harming others, but it could deter copycats, Hertzberg said.
The proposed law will allow the nearly 23,000 law enforcement officers in the county and the 1,100 county prosecutors to deal with potential terrorists on a local level.
“We’re ready to do it, we just need the laws in the books,” Cooley said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company