- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Senate Democrats are trying to limit debate and force a final vote on hate-crimes legislation, disregarding Republicans' loud complaints that they have not had the opportunity to debate the measure fully and offer all of their amendments.

"It is simply unfair to close off debate and amendments at this very early stage," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

The Senate will vote today on a cloture motion that, if approved, will limit debate and force an eventual vote on the bill. Sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, the bill would expand the federal definition of hate crimes and greatly broaden the federal government's ability to investigate and prosecute them.

Democrats brought up the hate crimes bill Friday and moved almost immediately to limit debate and force an eventual vote a move Mr. Kyl called "unprecedented." He said the Senate majority normally allows a bill to be debated, and resorts to such a move only if there is an attempt to sabotage the bill with a filibuster.

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, retorted that Republicans pulled such a move more than 30 times when they were in charge.

Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Democrats made the move because they heard Republicans planned to offer a slew of amendments to bog down the hate-crimes bill.

"The majority leader felt he had to move on," Mr. Reid said, noting that if the cloture motion is approved, there would still be up to 30 hours of debate and some amendments would be allowed.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said, "no one is threatening to filibuster this bill" and Democrats' actions were done "for the sole purpose of thwarting any meaningful debate on the bill."

Mr. Kennedy's bill would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by a person's sex, sexual orientation or disability, and would apply regardless of when or where a hate crime is committed.

Current federal law allows only race, color, religion or national origin to be the basis of a federal hate-crime case, and the covered offenses are limited to crimes committed against a person while doing one of six federally protected activities, such as voting to school.

Mr. Hatch said although there is a role for Congress to play in fighting hate crimes, the bill extends the authority of the federal government too far, unfairly taking power away from the states without any proof that state and local authorities are failing to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

"I am not alone in believing that this bill, if passed into law, will be struck down as an unconstitutional invasion into states' rights," Mr. Hatch said. "There has never been a showing that state and local law enforcement officials have been ignoring or neglecting much less intentionally failing their duty to prosecute these heinous offenses."

Mr. Hatch, who plans to offer an alternative bill, said the Kennedy bill would actually weaken the prosecution of hate crimes by not allowing federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in hate-crimes cases. He offered an amendment still pending that would allow the death penalty to be sought.

Mr. Kyl asked bill supporters to "stop and think about whether it is fair to single out a very small group of people who have a very large lobbying voice."

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