Committing an act of terrorism or instigating a hoax related to terrorist activities would soon become a felony under Oklahoma law if State Senator Frank Shurden gets his way. The Henryetta legislator has authored Senate Bill 822 - legislation that would update Oklahoma statutes to include penalties for crimes related to terrorism. While the state already has laws addressing such offenses as murder and assault, Sen. Shurden noted that Oklahoma statutes are largely silent on the issue of terrorism.
"Before September 11th and the Anthrax-laced mail scares that followed, I don't think many people thought we needed to have a state law that specifically addressed terrorist attacks or hoaxes. Obviously, we're living in a different world today where such laws are a necessity. I think it's important to give law enforcement officials one more weapon to fight the war against terrorism," said Sen. Shurden.
In addition to defining what constitutes an act of terrorism, biochemical terrorism and a terrorism hoax, SB 822 outlines stiff felony penalties for offenders who engage in such activity.
For example, anyone convicted of terrorism would face a maximum life prison term. Anyone who killed a person while committing an act of terrorism would face a first degree murder charge and possibly the death penalty.
One of the most important sections of the bill, according to its author, addresses hoaxes or scares that play on the fears of terrorism. In the wake of Anthrax mailings and the subsequent hoaxes that followed them, Senator Shurden said he felt it was important to send the message that jokes or pranks related to terrorism will not be tolerated.
"Anyone who is tempted to pull a stunt like that, either as a scare or a prank, needs to know that they're going to face some pretty stiff punishment. What may be a joke to them is very serious business to everyone else. I can guarantee you that the people who were the targets of the Anthrax hoaxes or the officials who responded to them didn't think they were very funny," said Sen. Shurden.
Under SB 882, anyone convicted of perpetrating a terrorism hoax would face up to 10 years in prison. The offenders would also be required to pay restitution to the victim and pay the costs of any other expenses that resulted from the hoax, such as the bills of emergency personnel
that responded to the case.
"Every time law enforcement officers and public health authorities have to investigate a threat related to Anthrax or terrorism, it takes up their valuable time and costs taxpayers money. The offender should have to pick up the tab."
Representative M.C. Leist will serve as the House author of SB 822. The bill has been filed for consideration during the upcoming legislative session. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene their 2002 meeting on February 4th.