U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop was absent in the House of Representatives when members tied their votes and failed to amend the USA Patriot Act to exempt bookstore and library records, but Bishop says his presence would not have made a difference.

Bishop, D-Albany, was granted a leave of absence July 8 from the House because he had committed months in advance to speak at an Urban League dinner in Columbus. That afternoon, the House voted 210-210 and thus was unable to exempt those records from being sought by federal officials with secret warrants.

Bishop said he would have voted to exempt the records, but he believes the Republican leadership of the House would have simply held the vote open even longer and convinced someone else to switch his vote.

"My vote would have made no difference, because they were twisting arms to get what they wanted," Bishop said in a phone interview.

When votes are called, there are 15 minutes for them to be cast and tallied, but the presiding officer can hold the time period open longer if they don't see the results they want, Bishop said. On July 8, the original vote was 219-200 in favor of the amendment, but the House Majority Leader held the vote for another 23 minutes while Republicans were pressured into changing their votes, according to news reports. The White House had threatened to veto the Justice Department spending bill if the Act was weakened.

Bishop expects another attempt to amend the Patriot Act, which has many critics.

"There very well may be another effort to amend the Act. It depends on what bills are on the floor that would be germane. It's a closely contested issue," he said.

Section 215 of the Act allows federal authorities to obtain and keep library, book and video store records without a person's knowledge.

The Justice Department last week said the Patriot Act has helped with terrorism investigations that have resulted in charges against 310 people and 179 convictions or guilty pleas.

I believe most Americans want the government to have the right tools to fight terrorism, but Congress should reconsider the more extreme provisions of this legislation.

It seems to me that the government should have probable cause before it searches what kinds of books you choose to borrow or buy.

Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at ron.wayne@gaflnews.com.

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