Endless sunset

Most of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, including access to library records, were supposed to "sunset" this year, five years after the law's passing. Instead, both the House and the Senate have already voted to renew the entire act, with only minor revisions. While they're at it, they'd like to add some decidedly unpatriotic amendments to expand the death penalty.

These new amendments would let prosecutors shop around for another jury if the one they have is deadlocked on the death penalty; triple the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty; and authorize the death penalty for a person who gives money to an organization whose members kill someone, even if the contributor did not know that the organization or its members were planning to kill.

The Patriot Act was enacted during what President Bush called "a state of emergency." It wasn't even read by most of the members who voted for it. But the whole point of the sunset clause was to allow Congresspeople to actually read the bill and debate it in calmer times. Now, the Act is effectively being made permanent with little or no debate or discussion.

Still, the House and the Senate are still in negotiations over the final wording of the bill and so it hasn't been made final yet. The Bill of Rights Defense Commitee is asking people to make one last push to keep it from getting renewed. They list possible actions you can get involved in and ways to educate your communities about threats to civil liberties.

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