The Norman Transcript

Local news

March 21, 2006

Balkman's terrorism bill would raise criminal stakes

CNHI News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Terrorism must be defeated in Baghdad, Belfast and Bali -- and from Bartlesville to Boise City.

So reasons Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, whose House Bill 2115 moves to the Oklahoma Senate after passing in the House of Representatives. The bill revises a state law by highlighting terrorism as crime against citizens as well as against government.

The idea came from a New York law passed in 2004 that the Bronx district attorney is using to try a group of gang members. Balkman said gang violence was the second-leading cause of Oklahoma City murders in 2005.

"Gangs are a growing problem throughout Oklahoma and they use terror as a weapon," he said recently upon the bill's House passage. "It's time law enforcement treats gang members like the terrorist thugs they are."

Balkman pointed out this week, though, that the bill does not specifically mention gangs. It defines terrorism, in part, as "an act of violence resulting in damage to property or personal injury perpetrated to coerce a civilian population; or ... to coerce a government."

If HB 2115 becomes law, the maximum sentence for terrorism would rise from life in prison to life without parole. Current law already says anyone convicted of causing a death while committing a terrorist act automatically would be guilty of first-degree murder, and that all acts of terrorism are felonies.

Balkman said most crimes, even violent ones, wouldn't be defined as terrorist acts because "there's no intention to coerce a group of people." Gang violence could qualify, he said, because it can grip and affect an entire neighborhood.

"These people are terrorizing our population," he said. "They are domestic terrorists."

The House passed the bill 80-15, with six not voting. Rep. Bob Plunk, D-Ada, said he voted no because he didn't have enough time to fully consider the bill. It came up during a week of marathon House sessions that sometimes approached midnight.

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