County Discusses NDAA Ordinance

On Dec. 16 Lane County commissioners discussed whether to question federal law and pass an ordinance that challenges two controversial sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA, a sweeping defense bill that sets the budget for the military, dates back to the post-9/11 period and is renewed every year by Congress. The controversial sections of the bill include provisions to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. The current version of the $585 billion NDAA passed the Senate Dec. 12.

Currently, the legal counsel for the County Commission, led by Steve Dingle, is reviewing the proposed ordinance. At issue is the impact the ordinance would have on labor unions, including the Lane County Peace Officers Association.

Colin Farnsworth, a local representative of People Against the NDAA (PANDA), says he suspects the legal counsel is delaying the review on purpose. “They’re giving us a run around,” he says, because the ordinance “has the potential of creating a lot of work and controversy.”

During the Dec. 16 discussion, Commissioner Jay Bozievich said, “I don’t want to follow up a bad national law with a bad local law.”

Commissioner Pete Sorensen tells EW that he supports an anti-NDAA ordinance for Lane County. “We’re not going to help the federal government comply with this law,” he says. Local governments across the U.S. have passed similar ordinances, including the state of California. “My focus is getting Lane County to join the list,” Sorensen says.

The controversial sections were included unchanged in the final bill awaiting President Obama’s signature — it passed the House Dec. 4. Sorensen says that means the issue is even more urgent for Lane County. “We need to be doing a lot more on the local level,” he says.

The federal government, Sorensen says, has said it will not exercise its powers to enforce the controversial sections of the bill. “It doesn’t mean a new president can’t use the power,” Sorensen says.

Farnsworth says the ordinance would be largely symbolic but could have practical impact. For example, the Lane County sheriff, Farnsworth says, “would be required by law to arrest anyone breaking the law,” which could potentially include federal agents.

If this ordinance passes, a drone strike would count as murder in Lane County, Farnsworth says, and assault and battery would be illegal, even for the sake of national security.

Both Farnsworth and Sorensen agree the anti-NDAA ordinance has support from the Lane County Commission from both sides of the political spectrum, though, as Sorensen points out, the County Commission is technically a non-partisan institution. Sorensen describes the situation as “civil libertarians on the left agreeing with civil libertarians on the right.”

In addition to funding $5 billion to fight the Islamic State, the 2015 bill also includes unrelated-to-defense public lands packages, some of which have drawn the ire of environmentalists. The 2015 NDAA gives land in the Tonto National Forest, including an area sacred to the Apache, to the Australian Rio Tinto company to be mined for copper. Other land swaps were greeted more positively, like expanding the Oregon Caves National Monument.