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VICTORY! Hate crimes bill passes US Senate
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VICTORY! Hate crimes bill passes US Senate

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act passed the Senate Thursday night as an amendment to the 2010 Defense Department authorization bill, although it took an odd and round-about route to passage. The final vote on the defense authorization bill was 87-7.

Also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), the bill adds crimes motivated by real or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability to the list of hate crimes already under federal jurisdiction.

The new hate crimes legislation was attached to the defense bill last week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in a bid to give an expected Republican filibuster the runaround. Amendments must be voted on before the main bill they amend can come to a vote. Reid hoped that attaching the hate crimes bill to the main defense funding bill - a must-pass bill - would discourage other Senators from trying to delay passage.

Reid was proved right late last week, when the Senate voted 63-28 to end debate on the hate crimes bill, and then added it to the defense bill by unanimous consent.

REPUBLICAN CONSENT CAME AT A PRICE
The consent of Republican Senators came at a price, however. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-SC), who spoke against the hate crimes bill during debate, was allowed to add three amendments to the legislation before Republicans would agree to let it proceed toward final passage.

Sessions' amendment, which adds assaults on military personnel to the list of hate crimes covered by the bill, passed 92-0. Two other Sessions amendments - one adding the death penalty for certain hate crimes, and another requiring the US Attorney General to issue "neutral and objective" guidelines on what constitutes a hate crime - were added by unanimous consent.

The death penalty amendment was viewed as an attempt to erode support for the legislation, and it was immediately denounced by NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey. "The purpose of hate crimes legislation is to protect everyone from hate-based violence - not to bolster the death penalty," she said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), one of the original Senate sponsors of the Matthew Shepard Act, offered his own amendment limiting the application of the death penalty in hate crimes cases, and that also was added by unanimous consent. The Kennedy amendment was introduced on his behalf, since he remains at home battling brain cancer.

The major remaining obstacle to final enactment of hate crimes legislation was overcome on Tuesday when the Senate approved an amendment by Carl Levin (D-MI) to strike funding for the F-22 fighter from the defense bill. President Obama had threatened to veto the defense bill - which now includes the hate crimes amendment - if it contained funding for the F-22.

The vote in favor of the Levin amendment was 58-40, with 15 Republicans joining 43 Democrats to kill the F-22, and 15 Democrats voting to keep the program.

Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell voted to keep funding for the F-22 in the defense bill, although both are considered allies of the Obama administration and both are strong supporters of the hate crimes bill. The Boeing machinists' union - IAM 751 - which represents 35,000 workers in this state, lobbied intensely to keep the F-22 funded.

Strangely enough, several pro-military Republicans including John McCain (R-AZ), John Ensign (R-NV), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and John Kyl (R-AZ), voted to kill the F-22 program because it was opposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

BIZARRE TWIST IN AMENDMENT SAGA
In another twist, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced an amendment to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons across state lines if they are legally entitled to do so in their home states. Fifty-eight Senators voted in favor, including Democratic Majority Leader Reid, but that fell short of the 60 votes required for passage.

Debate on the Thune amendment produced a bizarre moment, when Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who supports the hate crimes bill, spoke against the concealed carry amendment on the grounds that "this is a foot in the door that would require, for example, the laws in Vermont on Gay marriage to be enforced in Missouri."

McCaskill was immediately denounced as "homophobic" by the Gay Republican organization GOProud, which supported the amendment as a self-defense measure for LGBT people. GOProud describes itself as "committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy."

This past week seven amendments were considered by the Senate, ranging from one offered by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism to one sponsored by Joe Lieberman (D-CT) to increase the number of active-duty Army personnel. Three amendments have been agreed to (including Lieberman's) and four rejected (including Brownback's).

Now that the defense bill has passed the Senate, the hate crimes amendment next will have to be reconciled with the House version, which passed as a stand-alone bill on April 29 this year. Both houses of Congress will then have to vote again on the final version, but "reconciliation" bills are not subject to filibuster, so final passage is almost certain.

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