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Two sides join to pass the USA Freedom Act

An interesting thing happened on the way to Senate passage of the USA Freedom Act this week; Republicans and Democrats from states across the mountain West joined together to get the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Twenty-three Senate Republicans and 43 Democrats voted to approve the legislation, which reauthorizes sections of the Patriot Act and ends the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. Republicans including Mike Lee from Utah, Dean Heller from Nevada and Steve Daines from Wyoming voted for the bill, despite the objections of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who warned that eliminating the program could jeopardize national security.

MICHAEL COLEMAN Washington Notebook

MICHAEL COLEMAN
Washington Notebook

Sen. Mike Crapo, a conservative Republican from Idaho, voted against the bill, but not for the reason you might think.

“I don’t believe the bill went far enough to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans who are committing no crime and who are not a security threat to the United States,” Crapo said after the vote.

Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both New Mexico Democrats, voted for the bill. Heinrich, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has spent much of the past two years leading a Senate charge against the bulk data collection.

Heinrich told the Journal on Wednesday that senators from the Rocky Mountain West, a region known for its independent political streak, seemed to form a “liberty caucus” of sorts to push back against the NSA’s data dragnet.

Heinrich said the bulk collection of so-called domestic “metadata,” which will cease by the end of the year under the new law, was counter to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure. He also said Americans can breathe a little easier.

“I think they should know they are going to be secure in their ability to not have their business pried into so long as they are not doing something that causes them to be an actual terrorist suspect,” Heinrich said. “The problem with the way that program was structured is it treated innocent Americans the same as it treated terror suspects. When you start doing that, you are going down a road that doesn’t lead someplace very good.”

POLICE TRAINING: The U.S. House this week overwhelmingly passed legislation written by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., that provides money to train state and local law enforcement officers how to de-escalate tense situations on the job.

The $2 million appropriation, an amendment to a bill that pays for Justice Department operations, would make training grants available to law enforcement agencies through the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program.

“The more resources and training we can provide law enforcement to improve their skills to interact with the public, the more likely crises will be resolved peacefully,” Lujan Grisham said. “And the more nonviolent, peaceful interactions police have with the public, the more we can strengthen trust between police and the public that they are sworn to protect.”

The larger Justice bill, to which Lujan Grisham’s amendment is now attached, is expected for a vote this month.

Michael Coleman: mcoleman@abqjournal.com

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