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An interim House committee met in Springfield Wednesday to hear comments from the public on how to prevent a state intelligence-gathering agency from overstepping its authority and engaging in what some call “political profiling.” KSMU’s Missy Shelton was at the hearing and files this report.
At issue is a controversial report on militias released earlier this year by the Missouri Information Analysis Center or MIAC. The report raised concerns about members of third parties and supporters of certain presidential candidates like Ron Paul. Conservatives felt particularly singled out in the report, though both Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage over the report. Since the report’s release, a new director of MIAC has been appointed. The House Speaker has appointed a committee to gather public opinion and then issue a report on how to prevent future political profiling. That committee held a hearing in Springfield this week.Springfield Republican Representative Bob Dixon chairs the committee, which consists of both Republicans and Democrats.
Dixon says, “Some of the questions that the committee has raised include: How does someone know if they’re on a list? What would precipitate that? How would they find out if they were? And how could they get their name removed?...A lot of issues surrounding secrecy. Obviously, in the world we live in today, there are intelligences of a secret nature. However, when you have issues of concern that effect civil liberties, there’s a balance there. That’s the purpose of our committee is to make sure that balance is properly maintained.”
At the hearing in Springfield, Dixon and other committee members heard from two prominent local figures in law enforcement, both of whom defended MIAC: Springfield Police Chief Lynne Rowe and former Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt. Rowe spoke to the committee, not in his role as police chief but on behalf of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association. Former Sheriff Jack Merritt told the committee MIAC functions as a clearinghouse for information, making it vital resource for law enforcement in the state.
Merritt says, “To me, it is a tremendous, significant tool for law enforcement. Law enforcement in this day and age cannot succeed without a cooperative effort from other agencies.”
The committee also heard from concerned citizens who said lawmakers need to ensure MIAC does not engage in political profiling again. Among those who spoke was Teddy Fleck with the Greene County Libertarian Party. Fleck told the committee that the MIAC report has a chilling effect on individuals, making them reluctant to express their political views openly.
Fleck says, “It doesn’t outlaw free speech. But what it does is it coerces people into thinking twice: Do I want to put that Libertarian bumper sticker on my car?”
The public hearing in Springfield was the last of four. The other hearings were held in St Charles, Grandview and Jefferson City. The committee will meet next week to begin developing its report. That report will be presented to the House speaker later this year. It’s expected to contain a summary of public comments and could possibly contain recommendations for legislative action related to the oversight of MIAC.