Friday, July 17, 2009

Hate Crimes Passes, Faces Veto
By Kerry Eleveld - 07/15/2009

The Senate voted 63-28 Thursday night to end discussion on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was subsequently adopted by unanimous consent as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill.

“The Senate made a strong statement this evening that hate crimes have no place in America,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “This is a victory for all Americans – particularly those like Judy Shepard who has endured what no mother should ever have to.”

Though the amendment garnered three votes more than necessary to reach cloture, the fate of the hate crimes measure is now partially linked to $1.75 billion in funding for F-22 fighter jets that is also included in the DOD legislation.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both oppose the F-22 program and a White House spokesperson said the president will not sign a DOD bill that continues to fund the program.

"The President has long supported the hate crimes bill and gave his personal commitment to Judy Shepard that we will enact an inclusive bill,” said Shin Inouye, referring to Shepard’s Oval Office visit with the president earlier this year. “Unfortunately, the President will have to veto the Defense Authorization bill if it includes wasteful spending for additional F-22s. The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments is that the current program is sufficient to meet operational requirements. A Presidential veto would not indicate any change in President Obama’s commitment to seeing the hate crimes bill enacted."

Senators Carl Levin and John McCain have offered a bi-partisan amendment to remove the F-22 funding that is scheduled for a vote Monday, but insiders say the count is unclear.

If the amendment fails and President Obama vetoes the bill, it will be sent back to the Senate for a rewrite. A Democratic Senate aide said Senator Reid was optimistic, nonetheless, that hate crimes would ultimately make the final version of DOD authorization.

“This was a good vote,” said the aide. “Senator Reid is hopeful that we can keep this language in the final bill.”

David Smith, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, also indicated that hate crimes stood a good chance of being signed into law despite the F-22 snag.

“We are very confident that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act is going to get to the president's desk,” Smith said. “There might be some bumps along the way but it will eventually get there.”

The hate-crimes measure would broaden a federal statute that already protects citizens against bias crimes based on their race, color, national origin, or religion to include crimes committed against citizens for their actual or perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. It would also allow the federal government to provide assistance to local law authorities investigating a bias crime and to step in where local authorities are themselves unable or unwilling to prosecute a hate crime.

Senator Edward Kennedy, who is being treated for brain cancer, originally introduced the legislation in the Senate in 1997.

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