Momentum builds to increase security measures
By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- Not one person has been arrested since Tampa police hooked up face-scanning software to videocameras in Ybor City, but some state lawmakers still want to use the technology to screen people applying for driver's licenses.
Florida would become the first state to put photos and fingerprints together in a database for law enforcement agencies to search for terrorists and criminals.
It's one of the dozens of methods the state is considering to protect against terrorist attacks or other catastrophes not yet imagined.
"In this country, we've always had the good life," said Rep. Richard Machek, D-Delray Beach. "We didn't have the foresight to prepare for something like this. It's kind of a wakeup call for us."
Gov. Jeb Bush wants to devote $45-million to high-tech safeguards, including equipping emergency workers with contaminant-resistant body suits, buying gamma ray machines that can see through trucks, and building barriers around seaports.
Special legislative security committees are considering a slew of bills to define new crimes, heighten penalties and require more identification when people apply for licenses to drive, marry and fly crop-dusters.
Some question whether the security measures will really help prevent terrorism or will just make people feel better. For example, one measure would make it illegal to hijack a plane -- already a crime -- to harm people.
"There's this great push everywhere," said Dennis Jett, dean of the University of Florida's International Center. "Some measures will be foolish and wasteful. Some will be useful."
"Homeland security" has become a common phrase across the nation as local and state governments scramble to create sophisticated programs to combat terrorism instead of waiting for the federal government to act.
Although the $45-million Bush proposes spending is a small fraction of the state's $48.7-billion budget, the governor emphasized security as one of his top priorities when he unveiled his budget.
All 34 governors, including Bush, who have given State of the State addresses since Jan. 1 have stressed the importance of security.
"Right now, it's priority No. 1," said Christine LaPaille of the National Governors Association, a bipartisan group that monitors state government. "There is a lot of political pressure to do these things."
Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, who was appointed by Bush to head a security task force, said Florida has acted more quickly than other states because of its population, previous exposure to natural disasters and, of course, last year's connection to terrorism.
At least 13 of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had Florida ID cards or driver's licenses. Weeks later, anthrax killed one person in South Florida.
"While other states have been scratching their heads, we have been acting," said Steve Lauer, Florida's new chief of domestic security. "We didn't wait for the federal government to give us things."
Florida has spent $17-million on security measures since Sept. 11, $9-million of which came from the federal government. Just last week, the state discovered it will receive another $46-million to prevent bioterrorism.
Some of the $17-million was spent combating fake driver's licenses and IDs. Some was spent responding to potential bioterrorism. Some has gone for planning and bureaucracy, such as funding the task forces, the intelligence center and the new security chief.
"The measures are based on concrete evidence of a growing threat," said Rep. Randy Ball, R-Mims.
Legislators this year are considering dozens of bills that build upon laws enacted during last fall's special session.
Last year, they passed bills prohibiting putting certain chemicals into food and drinks, establishing strict requirements for aerial spraying and storage of pesticides and allowing police to intercept electronic communications in suspected terrorist acts.
This year, they are considering making it a felony to sell or manufacture counterfeit driver's licenses, forcing restitution from those who make hoax threats and forbiding "unauthorized" aliens from bidding or performing work under contract for state agency.
There is even a bill that would pay for the education of children whose parents are killed or disabled in the war against terrorism.
"I'm sure we've been hasty in some things, but the public outcry has forced legislators to do something," Machek said. "Ever so slight as some may be, it makes people feel better."
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