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Oklahoma Legislature passes only one anti-terrorism bill

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The fallout of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn't translate into sweeping anti-terror legislation in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Only one such bill survived the recently completed session _ a measure that would make terrorist acts or terrorism hoaxes illegal in Oklahoma. Senate Bill 822, by Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, includes penalties for anyone convicted of committing terrorism or a terrorism hoax with sentences up to life in prison.

It's among 164 bills awaiting consideration by Gov. Frank Keating. He has until the end of the week to veto or sign it.

``I can only hope they weighed the risk with homeland security very carefully,'' said retired Army Gen. Dennis Reimer, director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

``I do think the risk of another terrorist attack is very real,'' Reimer said. ``This is a matter of when it happens again and not whether it happens again.''

In the months after Sept. 11, state officials organized task forces to find where Oklahoma was vulnerable to terrorists and what changes in state law might be needed. Several bills resulted, but state budget concerns and flaws in a few of the bills kept all but three from advancing beyond the initial committee phase of the process.

One of the bills that died after committee would have created the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which would have given broad powers to the governor and state health officials during a bioterrorist assault.

House Bill 2765 passed by a narrow margin in the House but was voted on again at the end of the session at the request of a Republican opponent of the bill. Upon reconsideration, representatives rejected the bill.

A second bill would have created a state homeland security coordinator. House Bill 2764 made it through the House but was never voted on in the Senate. The bill died when it was not considered before the end of the session.

Until the state has enough money and an agreement to hire a full-time coordinator for homeland security, the public safety commissioner is filling in. Commissioner Bob Ricks has had to cancel his last two homeland security trips because of Oklahoma's funding shortage.

Ricks said he keeps in contact with state and federal security officials through conference calls.

``All the money has come out of the Department of Public Safety and we're taking 7 percent budget cuts,'' he said. ``It's hard for me to justify (the trips) to troopers when I've canceled travel for them.''

The state was already working on a vulnerability study before Sept. 11, which was finished in December. It has since created a statewide contingency plan as well as a study of local capabilities.
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