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Patriot Act renewal goes forward in US Senate

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] has voted to accept changes to legislation that would renew the USA PATRIOT Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive], setting the stage for a final vote Thursday to authorize the renewal legislation. In one of several votes Wednesday, the Senate voted 95-4 [roll call vote] to approve a series of amendments [bill summary] to the USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 [bill summary]. The amendments reflect a compromise agreement [PDF summary; JURIST report] reached by four holdout Republican senators with the White House. Sixteen key provisions [DOJ report, PDF] of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of last year, but members of Congress were unable to reach an agreement [JURIST report] on a long-term extension before Christmas and instead have passed two short-term extensions [JURIST report] keeping the provisions in force until March 10. The US House of Representatives and the White House had backed the renewal proposal in December's conference report [PDF text], but Senate Democrats, joined by the four Republicans, refused to agree, calling for more civil liberties protections to be incorporated into the renewal.

Also Wednesday, the Senate voted 84-15 [roll call vote] to limit debate on the reauthorization bill, cutting off the filibuster from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-MI) [official website], who accepted defeat [floor statement; recorded audio] Wednesday, saying "the dye has now been cast." Before ceding the floor, Feingold read the text of several resolutions passed by states in opposition to the renewal of the Patriot Act, and also read the full text of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. After the Senate votes to approve the renewal legislation, expected Thursday, the bill will go to the US House of Representatives [official website], where approval is also expected. President Bush must then sign the bill before it can take effect.

The debate on the Patriot Act may not be over, however, as several senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], and Feingold have announced plans to introduce legislation [Leahy statement] that would add further civil liberties safeguards to the Patriot Act and the Reauthorization Act. Specter has also said that he will hold additional committee hearings on the subject. AP has more.

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