WASHINGTON – Legislation to punish hate crimes became a flashpoint on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a measure expanding the definition of such crimes was attached to the bill outlining the Defense Department budget and approved by the House over the strong objections of Republicans.
House and Senate negotiators agreed earlier this week to attach the hate-crimes provision to the conference report for the $680 billion Defense Department authorization bill. The combined bill passed the House on Thursday, 281 to 146, with 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats in opposition. The measure must pass the Senate, in a vote that could come as early as next week, before it can head to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
Congressional Republicans complained that appending the hate crimes provision to a bill laying out the Pentagon’s budget for the coming year was an abuse of the legislative process and made U.S. troops “political pawns” in an unrelated social debate.
The provision would broaden the current definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It would also create a new federal crime to cover attacks against U.S. military personnel because of their service.
“This is radical social policy that … is being put on the defense authorization bill, on the backs of our soldiers, because they probably can’t pass it on its own,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
The House passed the hate-crimes measure as a stand-alone bill in April, with 18 Republicans joining 231 Democrats in support. But it stalled in the Senate. At the strong urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and fellow supporters from the House, the measure was attached to the Defense legislation — considered a must-pass bill.
Pelosi said Thursday that this week’s timing of the hate-crimes vote was appropriate.
“Monday is the 11th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, and we want in the same week of that tragic event to call the public’s attention once again to people acting upon their hatred in a violent way,” Pelosi said, referring to the infamous 1998 murder of a gay University of Wyoming student.
Civil-rights groups welcomed Thursday’s House action.
“We’re very pleased by this and look forward to it landing on the president’s desk,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
from The Washington Post
Tags: Matthew Shepard