- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Senate Democrats are planning to bring hate-crimes legislation to the Senate floor soon, but frustrated Republicans say there is more pressing business and they may offer a host of amendments to the bill.

"I think it's ridiculous that we're moving to hate crimes instead of bringing up the defense authorization bill," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican. "We're in a war."

"Here we are with no budget resolution, here we are with no defense authorization, critical needs in homeland defense and national security, and they want to choose what is arguably an important bill, but a very political bill," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican. "This party who leads has a responsibility of managing the Senate, not just being political."

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and sponsor of the hate-crimes bill, said the Senate could very easily consider both his bill and the defense authorization, because the Senate has considered the hate crimes bill in the past.

"We've already done hate crimes it's not a new issue," Mr. Kennedy said. "We voted on it 56-44, and we've picked up strength since then. This shouldn't take any time at all."

Democrats plan to bring the hate-crimes bill up whenever the Senate finishes considering the supplemental appropriations bill, which could be as early as today, said a Kennedy aide.

A Senate Republican leadership aide said that, rather than a filibuster, the party may embark on a strategy of adding to the hate-crimes bill various amendments on issues designed to appeal to independent voters.

"The Democrats are trying to move the Senate to the left on hate crimes and minimum wage," the aide said. "Republicans want to make sure the American people understand we're trying to move it back to the center by putting our troops first and keeping spending down. [Democrats] should be sued for political malpractice."

A senior Senate Republican leadership aide said there are 40 to 50 Republican ideas under consideration as possible amendments, ranging from an alternative hate-crimes bill to tax policy, national security and social issues. Republicans also are considering making permanent tax credits for teachers and relief from the "marriage penalty" in the tax code.

"You might even see an amendment that's a complete substitute to the defense authorization bill," said Mr. Craig.

Mr. Kennedy's bill would broaden the authority of the federal government to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

It 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 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 or going to school.

A senior Senate Republican leadership aide said many Republicans are concerned that the bill is "poorly crafted" and would allow the government to "bigfoot" criminal investigations.

"All crime is hate crime," he said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said that if he does not get an agreement with leading Democrats to bring up his human-cloning bill, he may offer pieces of that bill as amendments as well.

Democrats will likely file cloture on the bill soon after bringing it up, forcing the Senate to vote on it after two days, a Democratic aide said.

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