by Erik Henriksen

In an attempt to toughen laws on terrorism, the Oregon legislature may be casting a net that also ensnares the First Amendment and political activists. At the end of February, Senator John Minnis (R - Fairview) introduced Senate Bill 742. The proposed bill outlines the legal repercussions for convicted terrorists--namely, life in prison. But what is extra-frightening about the bill is its overzealous definition of terrorism.

The bill defines a terrorist broadly, as anyone who "knowingly plans, participates in or carries out any act intended to disrupt the free and orderly assembly" of Oregonians. In other words, anyone participating in an event--be it a protest or otherwise--that impedes traffic, business, or public assembly on any state property, including schools or universities. The minimum penalty for such an infraction? Twenty-five years without the possibility of parole.

Already critics are crying foul. The Portland Bill of Rights Defense Committee accuses that the vague nature of the bill would "grant more power to law enforcement than is necessary or intended."

Under the bill's definition of terrorism, acts of civil disobedience, eco-terrorism, and property crimes could be prosecuted even more extensively than violent crimes like armed robbery or rape.

For example, if tried under SB 742, the sentence of Earth Liberation Front (ELF)-affiliated Jeffrey Michael Luers--who was convicted of arson at a truck dealership in Eugene in June of 2000--would be serving life in prison instead of the 23 years he was given. Likewise, the crimes of at-large environmental activist Michael Scarpitti (aka Tre Arrow) and three environmental activists indicted for setting fire to three cement trucks, would warrant life sentences for all involved.

When tried last December, one of the activists, PSU student Jacob Sherman, pled guilty to the act of arson and was sentenced to three years.