Anti-terrorism measure wins House OK, 229-191 Watered-down bill gets last-minute Gingrich push

March 15, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A watered-down bill to combat terrorism passed the House yesterday by a 229-191 vote after two days of contentious debate over the balance between protecting public safety and preserving civil liberties.

It took a dramatic, last-minute plea by House Speaker Newt Gingrich to give the measure the final push it needed to pass.

"The challenge of a free society is to have a government that is strong enough to protect us from danger but carefully enough constrained to itself not be a danger," the Georgia Republican said.

The speaker sought to calm conservatives' concern that over-eager federal authorities might turn their sights on domestic militias and other groups that regard the government as the enemy.

Before passing the bill, which next must go to a conference with the Senate, the House stripped from it several provisions that would have beefed up the federal government's power to crack down on domestic and foreign terrorists.

A rare coalition of conservatives, gun enthusiasts and civil libertarians provided the votes to defang the legislation.

Many conservatives were afraid to give more power to the FBI, Treasury agents, immigration police and other federal authorities, citing what they called abuses of power during the 1993 siege of a heavily armed religious cult in Waco, Texas, and a 1992 shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, who resisted striking the tough anti-terrorist language from his bill, said that the climate of respect in the country for federal law enforcement has worsened.

The bombing last April of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City had been cited by the bill's sponsors as reasons to strengthen the government's powers.

The Senate version of the bill, which passed last summer, contains most to the stronger enfprcement provisions stricken by the House. President Clinton indicated he favors the Senate version, and said yesterday that he hopes the conference committee will thoughen the compromise bill.

While most of the tougher anti-terrorism items were deleted from the House bill, it still contains provisions to fight crime and discourage terrorism, including:

* Authority to deport aliens convicted of crimes in the United States.

* A ban on the import of nuclear materials that could be used to build weapons.

* A requirement that identification markers, called "taggants," be included in all plastic explosives made or imported into the United States.

* Authority for American citizens to sue for damages foreign countries designated as sponsors of terrorism.

* A ban on individuals receiving money from nations designated as terrorist by the U.S. government, a provision aimed at Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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