Terrorism bills exclude OKC bombing victims

Sunday, October 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two terrorism bills that would provide money for Americans directly affected by terrorist attacks dating back 13 years exclude victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Congress already had been working on a law that would compensate American families who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks in other countries when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. Leaders made the bill retroactive to cover the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa as well as Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, after a bomb exploded on the plane.

The newest law, written and passed in 24 hours, will help those affected in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The fund is part of legislation to save the airline industry from bankruptcy.

It will compensate families roughly in line with what they might get from a court award. In cases of death and severe injury, such awards usually exceed $1 million.

Budget officials have said the fund could cost taxpayers as much as $15 billion to compensate the direct victims of the attack _ more than 5,000 killed or missing and an additional 8,700 injured.

Victims who accept money from the fund will sign a waiver promising not to file lawsuits against American Airlines or United Airlines, whose airplanes were used in the attack.

Attorney General John Ashcroft will appoint a special master to distribute the money. The special master must come up with more specific guidelines by January.

Since Timothy McVeigh was an American and his plot to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was not conceived overseas, the two measures do not apply to victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., and victims' groups are concerned the legislation was passed too quickly and may have left out some victims. They also worry the plan will cost taxpayers too much.

``It was done very quickly. It was done without committees. It was done without a lot of input from a lot of people,'' Nickles said.

``For the most part I was objecting to the fact that, 'Hey, we're going too fast,' and we have Uncle Sam picking up all of the liability which could be in the many billions of dollars for every victim, both injured and deceased, so probably 10,000 claims, at least, maybe more, against the government.''

Suzanne Breedlove, director of victims services for the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, which administers the state's compensation plan for crime victims, said the state office received a little more than $75,000 for Murrah victims in 1995.

They did not receive lump sums of money for emotional distress or loss of companionship as victims of the recent attacks will get. Each victim of the 1995 bombing had to prove loss of income or another valid monetary reason for assistance.

Instead of two laws covering international terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks, Breedlove would have preferred an umbrella terrorism bill that would include Oklahoma City and any future terror attack either in the United States or in another nation.

Congressional leaders promised to revisit the program to possibly set limits on the fund and change eligibility requirements, Nickles said.

``We may study it for two months and then figure out, 'Hey, there's not a better way to do it.' But I'll be surprised.''

Joyce Bolte, who lost her 28-year-old son, Mark, in the Oklahoma City bombing, said helping families who lost their primary income may be a good thing, but giving families large sums of money just for being victims of terror attacks that are not the fault of the government ``is not right.''

``I don't need that much money and I may feel uncomfortable taking it,'' Bolte said. ``No amount of money they could give me is going to replace my son.''