WASHINGTON (Feb. 8)
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday requiring the Justice Department to compile data on domestic “hate crimes” committed against Americans.
The bill, long sought by American Jewish groups, was adopted despite its inclusion of antigay violence among the crimes to be monitored. Some Senate conservatives had opposed the measure, believing it gave undue protection to homosexuals.
“There’s a right every American ought to have, and that’s the right to be free and unmolested from vicious hate criminal activity,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a co-sponsor of the bill, said during debate on the measure.
The so-called Hate Crimes Statistics Act was approved by a vote of 92-4. Last June, the House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 368-47.
A House-Senate conference committee will now reconcile differing language in the two bills and then send a final version to President Bush for signature.
The bill directs the Justice Department to track hate crimes for the next five years, “just as it now collects data on auto thefts, burglaries and other crime,” said Sen. Paul Simon (D-lll.), the bill’s other principal sponsor.
Included are crimes against individuals or property because of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Anti-Semitism is included under race and religion.
Simon said the measure “is the only civil rights-related legislation before Congress endorsed by President George Bush.”
The bill is distinct from one signed into law in June 1988, which imposed criminal penalties as high as $250,000 in fines and 10 years in jail for vandalism against religious property.
ADL BEHIND BOTH BILLS
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith was the principal Jewish group involved in gaining passage of both bills.
ADL hailed the Senate action Thursday, calling it “a major step in the right direction.”
Burton Levinson, the group’s national chairman, said the bill would help law enforcement officials to “gauge the dimensions of the hatecrime problem, which has increased in recent years in many parts of the country.”
ADL also has been seeking passage of hatecrimes legislation at the state level. According to an ADL report to be released Friday, during the agency’s National Executive Committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., 12 states have enacted new hate-crimes laws or strengthened existing ones since 1988.
“All told, 43 states and the District of Columbia now have statutes aimed at combatting intimidation, harassment or institutional vandalism based on race, color, religion or, in some cases, sexual orientation,” the statement said.
The seven states that have no laws related to hate crimes are Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.
The statistics bill adopted by the Senate on Thursday had originally been scheduled for a vote last summer. But it was held up by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who opposed its inclusion of crimes against homosexuals.
In gaining passage of the bill Thursday, Simon and Hatch tried to placate Helms by adding an amendment that states nothing in the act shall be construed as trying to “promote or encourage homosexuality.”
“Nobody can make the claim that homosexual rights are going to come from this particular bill,” Hatch told Helms during the debate.
But Helms cited a recent article in a gay newspaper, the New York Native, that argued passage of the bill would lead to new civil rights protections for lesbians and gay men.
Hatch, himself a conservative, retorted that “homosexuals are human beings too. They are citizens of this country, and they ought to be treated like citizens of this country. They pay taxes, they ought to have the taxes go for their benefit, as well.”
The amendment was approved by a vote of 96-0.
Helms ultimately voted against the overall bill, along with Sens. William Armstrong (R-Colo.), Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.).