Senate Passes Hate-Crime Bill

Alan Fram, Associated Press

July 23, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(AP, WASHINGTON) – Without debate or even public mention of what it was doing, the Senate used a voice vote late Thursday to approve legislation adding sexual orientation, gender and disability to the categories of people protected under federal hate-crime law. Currently, the law only covers race, color, religion or national origin.

The measure was sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and about three dozen other Democrats and moderate Republicans.

A similar bill died in Congress last year, but momentum has grown after a spate of incidents. These include the dragging death of a black man in Texas, the fatal beating of a gay college student in Wyoming and this month's shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana by a man police said was a member of a white supremacist group.

Critics – largely conservatives – have said hate-crimes legislation creates special classes of citizens who are already protected by state laws against violence.

Also approved was a second, narrower bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that would expand federal jurisdiction to hate crimes committed after the crossing of state lines. It would also allow federal aid to state and local law enforcement officials prosecuting hate crimes.

It would not expand coverage beyond crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin, which are already covered by federal hate crime law.

The two hate-crimes measures were among 34 amendments the Senate – without describing them – added on a single voice vote to a spending bill for the Justice Department and other agencies. The spending legislation was also approved by voice vote.

The ultimate fate of the hate crime language is unclear because the House version of the Justice spending bill does not include it. A final verdict probably won't be known until fall, when the overall spending bill is likely to become part of expected budget bargaining between Clinton and lawmakers.

Under current law, the federal government can prosecute hate-motivated violence if the victim was on federal property or engaged in a federally protected activity such as going to school.