Monday, July 20, 2009

UPDATE: Session Amendments Pass, Causing Problems/Hate Crimes Bill Passes, But Still Face Hurdles and Veto

UPDATE: Unwelcome Hate Crimes amendments passed the Senate. Three of the four were submitted by Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions and is seen as a ploy to kill the bill. HRC has more and offers a bit of hope that the amendments will be killed in a conference committee with the House.
A US Senate filibuster of the hate crimes bill, also known at the Matthew Shephard Act, came to an end last night when a vote of 63-28 passed to end it, including five Republicans supporting to put an end to the debate. The legislation then passed with a voice vote.

“The Senate made a strong statement this evening that hate crimes have no place in America,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “This is a victory for all Americans – particularly those like Judy Shepard who has endured what no mother should ever have to.”

This expansion to the existing hate crimes bill which passed forty years ago when MLK was assassinated, now includes gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

The bill provides federal grants to help state and local officials with the costs of prosecuting hate crimes and funds programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles. The federal government can step in after the Justice Department certifies that a state does not have jurisdiction or is unable to carry out justice.

However, the bill still faces some hurdles and a veto threat.

The bill was offered as an amendment to a must-pass defense spending bill that the Senate is expected to finish some time next week. Several Republican amendments to the hate crimes legislation still could be considered on Monday, but Thursday's vote determined that it will be part of the defense bill when it passes.

The defense bill could include $1.75 billion in funding for F-22 fighter jets which Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gate opposes. If the hate crimes bill attached to this legislation reaches Obama's desk, the president may veto it.

"The President has long supported the hate crimes bill and gave his personal commitment to Judy Shepard that we will enact an inclusive bill,” said Shin Inouye, referring to Shepard’s Oval Office visit with the president earlier this year. “Unfortunately, the President will have to veto the Defense Authorization bill if it includes wasteful spending for additional F-22s. The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments is that the current program is sufficient to meet operational requirements. A Presidential veto would not indicate any change in President Obama’s commitment to seeing the hate crimes bill enacted."

The House already passed the hate crimes bill as independent legislation in April.

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