July 10, 2004
Regula, Ney split on votes
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Two area Republican lawmakers — Reps. Ralph Regula and Bob Ney — split in a razor-thin vote this week to repeal a portion of the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorist law enacted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, voted to preserve a provision of the law that allows the FBI to conduct secret searches of the records of library and bookstore patrons to uncover terrorist plots.
Ney, R-St. Clairsville, voted to repeal the surveillance authority. He and others who favored the change lost in a 210-210 vote Wednesday. At least one more vote was required to repeal the provision, which librarians and civil liberties advocates have opposed.
President Bush favors retention of the authority.
Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, voted to eliminate the provision even though he, like Regula, voted for the Patriot Act in 2001.
An amendment by Rep. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, would have barred the record searches, which librarians are prohibited from revealing to patrons.
Ney, one of only three Republicans who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001, criticized the provision as both ineffective and a threat to liberty.
“I think it could lead to horrific abuses,” he said.
Regula defended it as useful to investigators.
“While the exercise of this authority has been minimal, I believe it is important to prevent taxpayer-funded libraries from becoming havens for terrorists where they could freely contact their counterparts or obtain information on how to develop dangerous weapons free from FBI surveillance,” he said.
The Justice Department said at least one member of a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida used Internet services at a public library during the past winter and spring.
The Patriot Act gave the federal government sweeping new powers to fight terrorism, including broadened wiretap authority and the ability to search a residence without immediately informing the occupants.
Like Ney, Strickland expressed concern about the loss of civil liberties.
“I think what we are facing is the erosion of a very basic protection given to American citizens by the Bill or Rights,” Strickland said.
Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, and Tim Ryan, D-Niles, also voted for the unsuccessful change. Brown opposed the Patriot Act in 2001. Ryan had not yet been elected to Congress at that time.
Ney complained that the Justice Department did not provide enough details on how the law has been used.
“It was talked about that somebody had used a terminal (of a computer) that had a connection to al-Qaida,” he said. “Well, that can be done on a personal computer anywhere in the country, that can be done in an Internet coffee shop.”
While voting against the change, Regula pledged to review the entire law when it comes up for renewal at the end of 2005.
“I will carefully consider these measures on their merits to ensure that terrorism can be effectively combated while the fundamental freedoms indispensable to our nation are not unjustly compromised,” he said.
Regula, Ney and Strickland all pointed to the close vote as a reflection of intense concern among lawmakers that the law has gone too far.
Ney believes Congress will “clean up” the law and offer a modified Patriot Act for approval next year.
“I absolutely am determined to vote to repeal significant portions of the Patriot Act when and if we have the opportunity to do so,” Strickland said.
Both Strickland and Brown denounced House Republican leaders for extending the vote to ensure defeat of Sanders’ amendment.
Early in the voting, the measure looked as if it were going to pass. The vote was extended, and several lawmakers changed their votes after Republican House leaders pressured them.