The state Legislature’s recent overwhelming bipartisan passage of a resolution expressing disapproval with portions of the USA PATRIOT Act that violate constitutional rights and liberties was a symbolic move, but didn’t carry the weight of law. Still, Columbia Falls’ Republican representative Jerry O’Neill expressed the hope that his support of the resolution would “make it easier for our congressmen in D.C. to have more to stand upon when they oppose parts of the PATRIOT Act.”
But will the state resolution lead to federal action from Montana’s congressional delegation?
Though Rep. Denny Rehberg and Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns all originally voted in favor of the PATRIOT Act, so far the delegation has failed to go on record with reaction to the state resolution’s passage.
Brad Keena, a spokesman for Rehberg, said the congressman is “not one of [the act’s] great proponents,” but was unable to connect the Independent with his boss by press time for elaboration. Ditto Burns spokesman J.P. Donovan. Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser did not respond to numerous messages left with the senator’s Missoula office. (Baucus hasn’t spoken to the Independent since our March 2004 profile. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t speak with us for the profile.) Though Gov. Schweitzer’s signature is not required on a resolution, Schweitzer spokeswoman Sarah Elliot says “it’s something we’re supportive of,” and adds that the Schweitzer administration “may do something ceremonial” once the legislative session winds down.
Paul Edwards, a Helena-area film and tel vision writer who drafted the resolution, hopes Montana’s federal representatives may be more responsive once a state legislative delegation gathers to talk with them about why the resolution was passed.
According to Edwards, the state delegation will urge their federal counterparts “to take our criticism of the PATRIOT Act, which is very specific, to President Bush, Attorney General Gonzales, the Justice Department and Congress” in order to tell them, “Here’s what we don’t like, here’s what we’re not going to do, and we want you to either reform this act or repeal it.”
Whether Montana’s federal delegation responds, says Edwards, “will come out in the wash.”