Hate Crimes Bill Backers Have Hopes

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Supporters of a bill that would make federal crimes of violence against homosexuals and the disabled hoped Monday they could fend off amendments that might endanger the bill's Senate passage.

Adding extra legislation to the hate crimes bill would give senators more to argue over, and would only be a tactic to kill the legislation, said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

``I know it is the strategy of many opponents of this bill to add unrelated amendments, and we're going to have to vote against those, no matter how attractive they may be standing alone on their own merits,'' Smith said.

The bill would add crimes motivated by sexual orientation, sex or disability to the list of offenses already covered under a 1968 federal law. It would allow federal prosecutors to pursue a hate-crime case if local authorities refuse to press charges.

The Senate on Tuesday will vote to limit debate and amendments to the hate crimes bill, which has overwhelming Democrat support.

It takes 60 senators to limit debate and force a vote on the bill. Supporters say they are close to getting all the votes they need to keep senators from putting unrelated legislation on the hate crimes bill.

The Senate has 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent member, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.

``There's clearly a strong majority in favor of this legislation,'' said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. ``The best way to get this bill through is to invoke cloture, to move it, to pass it and then move on to the other important legislation that is before the Senate, and that's the argument I'll be making to my colleagues.''

Other Republican senators see problems with the bill, and say amendments and debate could fix it.

``It's wrong to treat some victims of violent crimes as more special than others,'' said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. ``All victims of violent crime should be equal in the eyes of the law. When such a crime occurs, the police should not first have to ask, for example, what is the victim's race or religion or sexual preference?''

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to scale the bill back with an amendment which would, in part, only allow the Justice Department to help state and local authorities in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes by providing federal manpower as well as financial assistance.

He said he believes that the Supreme Court will find the bill an invasion of states' rights. ``We know that (the hate crimes bill) as written has no chance of enactment,'' Hatch said. ``It simply has too many problems. Instead of having a political issue, we should take a realistic and responsible step toward addressing this problem, which would be passing my version of this legislation.''

The Republican-controlled House is likely to ignore the bill again, as it did in 1999 and 2000. Senate supporters are likely to try to attach the bill to an authorization bill, like the one for the Defense Department, in an attempt to force it through.

That's been tried before, without success. In 2000, House Republicans refused to allow the bill to pass as part of the Defense Department authorization bill after the Senate placed it there; in 1999, the House blocked the measure from being submitted as part of the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill.

The bill number is S. 625.

On the Net:

Bill text: http://thomas.loc.gov

06/10/02 18:00 EDT