Senate considering similar measure; Bush expected to veto bill
WASHINGTON The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday, May 3, to expand federal hate crime categories to include violent attacks against gays and people targeted because of gender, acting just hours after the White House threatened a veto.
The legislation, passed 237-180, also would make it easier for federal law enforcement to take part in or assist local prosecutions involving bias-motivated attacks. Similar legislation is also moving through the Senate, setting the stage for a possible veto showdown with President Bush.
The Executive Office of the President issued a statement saying, “The Administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion or national origin. However, the Administration believes that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.”
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the only openly gay man in the House, presided over the chamber as the final vote was taken.
The vote came after fierce lobbying from opposite sides by civil rights groups, who have been pushing for years for added protections against hate crimes, and social conservatives, who say the bill threatens the right to express moral opposition to homosexuality and singles out groups of citizens for special protection.
The White House said state and local criminal laws already cover the new crimes defined under the bill and there was “no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement.”
It also noted that the bill leaves other classes, such as the elderly, the military and police officers, without similar special status.
Republicans, in a parliamentary move that would have effectively killed the bill, tried to add seniors and the military to those qualifying for hate crimes protection.
The measure was defeated on a mainly party-line vote.
Hate crimes under current federal law apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national origin. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction only if the victim is engaged in a specific federally protected activity such as voting.
The House bill would extend the hate crimes category to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability and give federal authorities greater leeway to participate in hate crime investigations. It would approve $10 million over the next two years to help local law enforcement officials cover the cost of hate crime prosecutions.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is named for Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who died after he was beaten and tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998. His mother Judy, who heads a foundation in her son’s name and has been a leading advocate of the legislation, addressed House Democrats before the vote to ask for their backing.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2007