Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hate Crimes Update: Attempt to Remove Hate Crimes Provision Fails

Last night the House defeated the Motion to Instruct – a procedural vote organized by Republicans to strip the hate crimes provisions from the Department of Defense (DOD) Authorization bill. The motion failed by a vote of 178-234, and the conference report now advances for a vote in the House tomorrow. If passed, the report advances to the Senate where we imagine a similar procedural vote will take place sometime next week. Please check back for more updates!

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have agreed to include in the FY10 defense authorization conference bill a provision that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, several congressional aides said Monday.

The decision ends a long dispute between the two committees over whether the annual defense policy measure should include the hate-crimes language, which has been sponsored over the years by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has long viewed the defense authorization bill - which is considered a must-pass piece of legislation -- as a viable and suitable vehicle for the hate crimes language.

After the Senate approved a hate crimes provision in the FY08 defense bill in 2007, House lawmakers worried that its inclusion in the final bill would compel most House Republicans to vote against the measure. Those "no" votes, when combined with those cast by antiwar Democrats who oppose the annual authorization, ultimately would jeopardize passage of the bill, they reasoned.

Even if the FY08 bill could muster enough votes to pass, House Democrats feared then-President George W. Bush would veto it over hate crimes language and force Congress to drop it to get a defense bill signed.

But the political climate has shifted significantly this year.

President Obama, who will be the keynote speaker Saturday at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the leading national advocacy group for gay rights, has supported the hate-crimes language. Meanwhile, House Democrats -- buoyed by an expanded majority after the 2008 elections -- approved a stand-alone hate crimes measure in April by a 249-175 margin.
Still, the hate crimes provision was among the last issues to be resolved during private negotiations by Levin, Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton and ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon to reach a conference agreement, aides said.

With hate crimes and other differences in the two bills now resolved, the House is expected to make a formal appointment of conferees on the measure tonight, followed by a House-Senate conference meeting Wednesday.

The House plans to vote on the conference report as early as Thursday, with the Senate likely to vote next week, aides said.

McCain declined to comment on the details of the conference agreement Monday, but said he was generally pleased with the outcome.

"There's always things that you'd rather have or rather not have," he told reporters. "I think overall, it's something that we can support. [I'll] hold my nose in some places, but overall I think it's a good authorization bill."

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