Hate crimes bill introduced …. again. Will this be the year?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.(), the Senate Judiciary chairman, has attached hate crimes legislation to the defense authorization bill.

That’s good news for a bunch of Jewish groups, starting with the Anti-Defamation League, which have been pressing for the legislation – which would broaden existing federal hate crimes laws to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability – for a decade.

It has already passed the House, and the Senate has adopted similar legislation as  amendments to other bills in the past, but it’s always been stripped out before the legislation is signed.

Even with a Democratic Congress and president, it won’t exactly be a cakewalk this  time around.

Despite the Democrats 60 vote voting majority, it will be difficult to enforce party discipline on a bill that is being attacked as a “gay rights” measure by the Christian right.

From the other side of the political spectrum, some liberal senators are unhappy with the overall defense bill and might be inclined to vote against it; throwing in a hate crimes measure favored by civil rights and gay rights group will put them in an awkward position.

Still, Jewish leaders are convinced attaching the measure to the must-pass Defense bill and the fact that for the first time in eight years there isn’t a veto threat looming over the bill – President Obama supports it – mean that this is their best shot ever.

Apparently conservative Christian leaders agree; they are pulling out all the stops, erroneously claiming the  bill will criminalize preaching against homosexuality; the ADL and other supporters say it just deals with hate-related violence, not the right of preachers to denounce homosexuality.

“Hate crimes are acts of violence that meant to frighten and intimidate the victim and the entire community,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a co-sponsor. “It is important to note that this amendment fully protects First Amendment Rights, but it expands the federal definitions to cover individuals and groups that have been increasingly targeted. It is time to include in federal statue gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation to make sure all Americans are equally protected against hate crimes. It also is important to ensure the prosecution of hate crimes wherever they take place.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.