Log Cabin Disappointed with Senate Democrats on Hate Crimes Maneuvers

Smith, Hatch Express Strong Support for Federal Bill Including Gays; Democratic Maneuvering Prevents Debate on Improvements

June 11, 2002 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – The nation's largest gay Republican organization applauded the debate today in the U.S. Senate on the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA), a bill to enhance the federal role in fighting hate crimes, including those against gay Americans.

However, despite widespread support for the bill, and a pledge on the Senate floor by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) – the lead Republican on the Judiciary Committee – to work with the bill's lead sponsors in order to "make the House accept it" and strengthen its chances of enactment into law with improving amendments, the Democratic leadership forced a procedural vote to cut off all debate – a strategy which drove two original co-sponsors of the bill to vote against them.

"The Democrats used a high-risk strategy to speed the bill's passage, and it not only failed but insulted supporters and prevented a breakthrough deal," said Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "We call on all parties to come back to the table and stay at work on this important issue, because we are too close to an agreement to let election-year politics to undermine years of work."

"We are fortunate to have Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon as a leader in this effort, because without him we would not be so close to a breakthrough," Tafel said. "We applaud his tenacious leadership on advancing this important legislation His proven skills at bringing people together will be crucial in the coming weeks on this issue."

In his floor remarks, Senator Hatch reviewed a series of brutal hate crimes, most of which were committed against gays and, in one case, a transgendered American, and said "no one is more committed than I am" in fighting such crimes with an enhanced federal role, including crimes against gay Americans.

Hatch said on the floor that he wanted to see the bill pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law immediately, and wished to offer amendments to the bill to strengthen the bill and gain his support. In the 2000 presidential debates, President George W. Bush stated on national television that he supported Senator Hatch's position on this bill.

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the lead Democratic sponsor, quoted Attorney General John Ashcroft's statement on the April 2002 hate crime indictment of the killer of two lesbians in 1996 to point out that the Bush Administration also strongly supports a federal role in fighting hate crimes, including those against gay Americans.

Hatch's amendments would leave the definition of a hate crime intact, including sexual orientation; allow for the use of the death penalty, but only for crimes committed in states where it is available under state law for the same crime; remove the $100,000 ceiling on financial assistance to local and state law enforcement in fighting hate crimes; order the Justice Department to appoint a federal prosecutor in each jurisdiction to act as the federal liaison with local authorities in fighting hate crimes, to ensure speedy federal cooperation with locals; finance a federal study to analyze the statistics collected by the F.B.I. since the enactment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990; and to clarify federal jurisdiction after states have prosecuted cases in order to protect the bill against constitutional challenges.

Hatch also pledged in his remarks that he would compromise with the Democrats to ensure the inclusion of gender in the bill, and Hatch's amendments (despite statements by Senator Kennedy on the floor today) include gender as a protected category. Hatch has raised concerns that the federal impact on state prosecution of rape cases would have to be addressed when including gender as a category.

However, the Democratic leadership entered a motion to cut off debate only minutes after the bill was brought up, not allowing Hatch's amendments to even be considered.

The motion angered several supporters of the bill, and failed to gain the necessary 60 votes, with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Senator John Ensign (R-NV), two original co-sponsors of the bill, voting against it.

"It was clear from everything that happened that if a deal was made, this bill could have flown through and had unstoppable momentum. My concern is that the Democrat leadership promised their base they'd bring up the bill and used this vote merely to fulfill their pledge," Tafel said. "As Senator Smith rightly said on the floor today, we will be back again. Senator Hatch must be included in the process so we can, in Senator Hatch's own words, make the House accept a bill that will become law."

LLEEA is co-sponsored by Smith, Specter, Ensign, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). Observers expect that Hatch's support could bring on a number of additional Republican Senators and the Bush Administration. Log Cabin Republicans endorsed the bill several years ago, and has worked with Hatch and the Bush Administration on improving the bill's chances of enactment.

Log Cabin Republicans is the nation's largest gay and lesbian Republican organization, with state and local chapters nationwide, a full-time national office and a federal political action committee.