Bad Bills

Cold-Cocking the Consitution


First Amendment Twouble


HB 433

Rep. Ray Allen (R- Dallas)

Shhhhhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. It’s hunting season at the 78th Legislature and Representative Ray Allen has Osama Bambi Laden in his sights. With scattershot accuracy, Allen has filed an eco-terrorism bill that declares open season on groups and individuals who hold extremist ideals like clean water or humane treatment of animals, ensuring that “politically motivated” activists won’t threaten Texas industry under the guise of environmental conservation or animal rights.

HB 433 defines an animal rights or ecological terrorist group as two or more people organized to obstruct or deter others from participating in activities involving animals or natural resources. Under this remarkable bill, a group is branded terroristic if it has political motivations, meaning an intent to influence the government or the public. In effect, the definition encompasses all grassroots and interest groups lobbying for the environment or animal welfare. Although Rep. Allen insists his bill “attempts to draw a clear and unmistakable line between constitutional free speech and criminal behavior,” the ACLU believes the Dallas representative missed the mark.

Offenses that warrant prosecution as an eco-terrorist include disrupting the operation of a facility and unlawful entry. But many of the terrorist offenses listed in the bill are already on the books in Texas under traditional names like “theft” and “vandalism.” Now, if Allen gets his way, activists who, for example, stage a sit-in opposing the commercial development of a wetland could be charged with trespassing and ecological terrorism. Allen’s aim is to levy increased penalties on those who break the law in support of a political cause. Imagine, soon people could be throwing tea overboard or staging sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters or even protesting abortion clinics.

But the double prosecution of activists is not enough for Allen. He wants every convicted wascaly tofu-toting tree-hugging terrorist to be registered on the Internet. An offender’s name, signature, address and a recent photograph would be available for public viewing on a database, presumably to deter anyone foolish enough to exercise their First Amendment rights. Allen’s chief of staff, Scott Gilmore, acknowledges that in a time of budget crisis, the bill’s provision for a newly created and state-maintained registry might be “negotiable.”

Drafted by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and members of the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, HB 433 does include one new and far-reaching addition. In what Sportsmen’s Alliance Vice President of Government Affairs Rob Sexton names the “meatiest section” of the bill, anyone who assists supposed enviro-terrorists through donations also commits an offense. This “aiding and abetting” clause codifies guilt by association and singles out the main funding apparatus of conservation and animal rights groups. No money, no movement.

A prime target of the bill is that pernicious terrorist, the photo-harasser who documents animal cruelty. HB 433 will criminalize anyone who legally enters an animal facility (be it a circus, slaughter house or pet store) to take photographic images with the intent to “defame” the business or its owner. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, to be considered defamatory, a statement must not only harm a person or business, it must be false. A photograph wouldn’t likely bring about negative public opinion of a business’s animal treatment unless it actually documented an abuse or neglect. When asked if photographing animals to expose inhumane practices was terrorism, Sexton responded that it certainly constituted “harassment.”

When legislation as vaguely-worded and anti-constitutional as this has a fighting chance, there’s something awfly scwewy going on awound here.

It’s all Greek to Him

HR 107

Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton)

Texas has such a great track record of race relations that Rep. Dennis Bonnen wants to help out Eastern Europe with its own racial problems. Bonnen, who is half Greek, was asked by a Greek-American friend of his mother’s to introduce a resolution recognizing the ancient and current Hellenic ethnicity of the inhabitants of Northern Greece. Hellenes are considered the ancestors of the Greeks, so the resolution declares that Northern Greece is ethnically Greek and has been for 3,000 years. HR 107 is a word-for-word regurgitation of resolutions brought to the California, Illinois, Missouri and New Hampshire state legislatures by the Pan-Macedonian Association, which is comprised of Greek Americans.

Absent from the resolution is an explanation of its real purpose. Since the early 1990s, Greece has waged a fierce political campaign against its northern neighbor, the newly-formed Republic of Macedonia, arguing that the use of the word Macedonia robs Greece of its cultural heritage. HR 107 is the continuation of this conflict within the Greek-American and Macedonian-American communities of the United States.

Asked if it was prudent to rely on only one side’s account of a two-sided conflict, Bonnen said, “It is if they are factually right–which I believe them to be,” and added that while the language was that of the Pan-Macedonian Association, the issue had been researched by his office.

Historians write about whether the ancient Macedonians were Hellenic. According to Loring Danforth, a professor of anthropology at Bates College and author of the book The Macedonian Conflict, “The evidence says no.” Seems that the consensus among scholars is the exact opposite of what is stated in Bonnen’s resolution. Danforth says that HR107 particularly disturbs him as a scholar, not only because of the historical inaccuracies, but because it further politicizes the ongoing tensions between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia.

“The subtext is that the Slavs across the border in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are not Greeks and can’t call themselves Macedonians. Behind it all is an attempt to deny a group of people the right to identify themselves as they wish.” Apparently, the dispute is not just between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. A minority of non-Greek Slavs within Northern Greece also identify themselves as Macedonian and have suffered human rights abuses for their refusal to assimilate into Greek culture. So not only does HR 107 contain highly questionable facts, its lousy foreign policy. In Prof. Danforth’s words: “It’s a bad bill because it is bad history, bad diplomacy, and bad human rights!”