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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 17, 2006

Federal hate crime bill
is dead again

Sensenbrenner kills protection for LGBTs

Washington, D.C.--A powerful House Republican has killed a measure to federalize hate crimes committed because of the victim�s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, moved on March 8 to keep it out of a larger bill establishing a national registry of people who commit sex offenses against children.

The measure, known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2005, allows the federal government to step into the prosecution of any violent crime motivated by the victim�s sexual orientation or gender identity, real or perceived, where the state or local jurisdiction does not offer such protection.

The bill was originally introduced in 1997 in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy and former Kansas Republican Nancy Kassebaum at the request of then-Attorney General Janet Reno. It has been introduced and then blocked by Republicans in every session since.

Most states, including Ohio, include characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, sex, and national origin in their hate crime laws, but not sexual orientation or gender identity.

The latest incarnation of the federal bill passed the House 223 to 119 last September. It was offered as an amendment to the sex offender registry by Michigan Democrat John Conyers, who is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Nearly all House Democrats and 30 Republicans voted for Conyers� measure, adding it to the larger bill.

Ohio�s delegation split along party lines. Democrats Sherrod Brown, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan and Ted Strickland voted for it.

Republicans John Boehner, Steve Chabot, Paul Gillmor, David Hobson, Steve LaTourette, Bob Ney, Mike Oxley, Deborah Pryce, Ralph Regula, Jean Schmidt, Pat Tiberi and Mike Turner opposed it.

Sensenbrenner, who generally scores zero on Human Rights Campaign voting scorecards, did not support the Conyers amendment, and found a way to keep it out of the final package.

He took most of his first bill except Conyers� amendment, added the language of two other bills passed independently, including a requirement for federal background checks for prospective foster parents and prohibiting liens against judges and law enforcement officials, and created a whole new bill for consideration.

The new, House Resolution 4472, was brought to the floor under a rule prohibiting any amendments and limiting floor debate to 20 minutes per side, although it never had committee hearings on its contents.

Conyers raised the first objection.

�I am hoping that my good friend, the chairman of the committee, will somewhere in the course of this suspension explain to us why three bills were mentioned, but one that was added by the majority of the House--H.R. 3132, which deals with hate crimes and is arguably one of the most notable pieces of civil rights criminal enforcement protection considered by the Congress--was inexplicably left off,� said Conyers.

�It�s a federal crime to hijack an automobile; it�s a federal crime to possess cocaine. It ought to be a federal crime to drag a man to his death because of his race or hang a man because of his sexual orientation,� Conyers continued.

Conyers continued objecting to Sensenbrenner�s tactics and calling for hearings on the reformulated bill, and stressed that according to the FBI, all hate crime is up since the September 11 attacks, including an increase of 14.3 percent motivated by sexual orientation.

Republicans who spoke in favor of the bill ignored objections by Conyers and other Democrats.

Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, who is gay, spoke against Sensenbrenner�s maneuver.

�I once again skirt the rules of the House by taking note of the fact that people not in this chamber may be watching us,� said Frank. �And I am particularly concerned about members of the Iraqi National Assembly, the newly elected Parliament which we are trying to instruct in democracy.�

Frank said there are important and controversial issues in the bill, some of which he supports, others which he does not, but he objects to the bill coming to the floor as it did, �because committee leadership didn�t like what happened when the House actually voted on it in a democratic manner.�

�[The Republican leadership] said, we can�t allow that to happen,� Frank added, �We cannot allow democracy to be running rampant on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. So, today we have the antidote to democracy.�

Frank noted that the bill was brought to the floor under the same rule that applies when the House debates naming post offices.

�So, to the members of the Iraqi National Assembly who may be observing this, I think there is a very important point we need to make: please don�t try this at home,� Frank said.

Sensenbrenner responded to Frank�s charges saying all he did was �combine three bills already debated and passed but which got stalled in the [Senate].�

Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York objected to the hate crime measure�s removal.

Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who is lesbian, said, �One cannot fully address the issues of crime reduction and child safety without acknowledging the terrorizing impact hate motivated violence has in our society.�

�It is a shame that by introducing an omnibus crime prevention bill and proceeding under suspension of the rules that the majority undermines the democratic process by doing an end around hate crime prevention,� Baldwin continued.

At the end of the discussion, the bill was passed on a voice vote at the discretion of the speaker.

HRC president Joe Solmonese said that according to a poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 73 percent of Americans support the legislation Sensenbrenner omitted from the bill.

�The United States Congress is not a card game,� said Solmonese. �You can�t keep just re-shuffling the deck if you don�t like the first hand the majority deals you.�

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