- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Senate Republicans yesterday derailed a Democratic bill that would have expanded the federal definition of hate crimes and the federal government's ability to investigate and prosecute them.
A motion by Democratic leaders to limit debate and force a vote on the legislation, which required 60 votes to pass, was able to garner only a 54-43 majority, and Democrats subsequently pulled the bill from consideration because it would have been vulnerable to unlimited Republican amendments.
Democrats vowed to bring up the bill again, but there was no indication that votes would change this year.
"We're going to be back and back and back," said bill sponsor Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "This is just the beginning, and we're going to continue the battle."
"There is no doubt that we will have another vote on this bill," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Senate Republicans were angered by Democrats' rush to close down debate on the bill, but they also said more pressing matters should take priority.
"The greatest hate crimes of all that we should be dealing with right now is the hate crime of terrorism against America," said Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who cited the more than 3,000 people killed on September 11. "There's where our focus should be. We should be taking up the defense authorization bill."
Mr. Kennedy said that by defeating the Democrats' cloture motion on the hate-crimes bill, "Senate Republicans made clear that they will not take action to fight terrorism at home."
He said, "Each year thousands of Americans are attacked out of hatred for their religion, the color of their skin or their sexual orientation.These senseless acts of violence are also terrorist acts, and we must do all we can do to end them."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and others 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 not investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
"I challenge [Mr. Kennedy] to show me where state and local law enforcement is not doing their job," the Utah Republican said.
Republicans also said the Kennedy bill would weaken the prosecution of hate crimes by not allowing federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in such murders. Mr. Hatch has offered an amendment allowing for the death penalty in hate-motivated murders, but the Senate never was permitted to vote on it.
Mr. Hatch said Democrats were frustrating the process, "primarily for political reasons, instead of working together."
Senate Democrats brought up the hate-crimes bill on Friday and almost immediately moved to cut off debate by filing the cloture motion, angering many Republicans.
Even two of the bill's Republican co-sponsors Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John Ensign of Nevada voted against the cloture motion.
Mr. Specter said he did so because there was "no time to debate" the bill or consider key amendments, especially Mr. Hatch's death-penalty proposal.
Four of the Republican co-sponsors of the bill joined Democrats in supporting the cloture motion: Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine.
Mr. Daschle changed his vote on the cloture motion from yes to no, a procedural move that allows him to bring up the bill again later.
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 covers only offenses committed against a person while doing one of six federally protected activities, such as voting or going to school.
Mr. Kennedy said the main roadblock to passing the bill is that the House Republican leadership "will not take protection of sexual orientation" as part of the final bill and insists that it be removed.
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said the bill wrongly "provides some crime victims with greater legal protections than others under the law."
"A person who is victimized because of his sex practices should not receive greater protection under the law than an elderly woman who is mugged for her purse," she said.
Meanwhile, the Interfaith Alliance lamented the fate of the bill.
"We cannot take a stand against hate crimes morally, only to watch our representatives in the highest levels of government fail to translate that opposition legally," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the group.


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