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Bill Would Protect Certain Nonprofits from Terrorist Attacks

(April 19, 2004) A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives have introduced the High-Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act, which would create enhanced security measures to help protect nonprofits deemed to be at high risk for terrorist activity. 

Under the bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security would designate a nonprofit as "high-risk" and therefore eligible for assistance based on the following criteria:

  • threats of terrorism against specific group(s) of American citizens who operate or are the principal beneficiaries or users of the nonprofits;
  • prior attacks against the nonprofit or institutions associated with or similarly situated as the nonprofit;
  • the symbolic value of the site as a highly recognized American cultural or historical institution that renders the site a possible target of terrorism; and
  • the role of the nonprofit in responding to international terrorist attacks.

Those nonprofits designated as high-risk would be eligible for federal grants and guaranteed loans to help pay for the costs of heightened security measures. Funds could not be used for security equipment that would reasonably be necessary for protection from neighborhood crime.

The bill would also provide some funding for local law enforcement entities in areas where there are concentrations of "high-risk" nonprofits. In addition, an Office of Community Relations and Civic Affairs would be created at the Department of Homeland Security to focus on security needs of nonprofits with respect to international terrorist threats.

Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) were the lead sponsors of the bill in the Senate, while Reps. George Nethercutt (R-WA), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Eliot Engel (D-NY) led efforts in the House of Representatives.

Critics of the bill say the legislation is very close to crossing the First Amendment separation of church and state by causing the federal government to directly fund religious institutions. Others have also argued that $100 million is just the tip of the iceberg and won't provide adequate funding. Supporters acknowledge that the total funding probably won't touch every organization that may need it, but believe the bill is a good place to start.

In the House, the bill number is H.R. 4108, and the legislation has been referred to the Select Committee on Homeland Security and the House Judiciary Committee. In the Senate, the bill number is S. 2275 and has been referred to the Government Affairs Committee.

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