Democrats To Try To Attach Hate Crime Legislation To Funding Bill

Thursday, September 27th 2007, 6:42 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Democrats are trying to force President Bush to sign hate crimes legislation he has threatened to veto by attaching it to a massive bill funding the Defense Department and the Iraq war.

Writing violent attacks on gays into federal hate crime laws is related to the war because both are strikes against terrorism, according to a Republican senator and other supporters of the measure.

``We simply cannot tolerate violence against our own citizens simply because of their differences,'' said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who is sponsoring the legislation with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. ``We cannot fight terror abroad and accept terror at home.''

That's a stretch, not to mention a heavy-handed maneuver that ``hijacks'' a bill that includes a pay increase for troops in wartime, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

``I think it's shameful we're changing the subject to take care of special interest legislation at a time like this,'' Cornyn said on the Senate floor.

Attaching hard-to-pass legislation to must-pass bills is a strategy for both parties. Success means forcing squeamish lawmakers to technically vote for controversial policies embedded in massive spending bills.

The White House has contended that state and local laws already cover the new crimes defined under the bill and there was no need to provide federal sanctions for what could be a wide range of violent crimes.

The hate crimes amendment, which passed as a stand-alone bill in the House this year, is especially tempting for majority Democrats because of Bush's weakened, lame-duck status and some support for the measure among Republicans. The underlying bill would authorize military spending priorities for fiscal 2008.

That discussion began on the Senate floor even before it was brought up underscored the sensitivity for the White House.

GOP leaders were careful not to attack the legislation itself, focusing instead on what they said was the ``non-germane'' nature of the amendment to the overall spending bill.

``There may be a time and place for a hate crimes discussion, but it is certainly not now when national security legislation is being held up,'' said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona. ``Forcing a vote on the so-called hate crimes amendment shows an utter lack of seriousness about our national defense.''

Retorted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.: ``For some, it never seems to be the right time or the right place.''

Under current federal law, hate crimes 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.

Federal investigators could step in if local authorities were unwilling or unable to act.