WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 (JTA) — The House of Representatives has gone on record in support of national hate crimes legislation.
In a vote of 232-192 on Sept. 13, lawmakers voted to instruct House negotiators to keep hate crimes language in a defense bill currently under consideration.
The last-ditch effort may mean that expanded national hate crimes legislation could become law by the end of the year. The vote is a nonbinding resolution, however, so the hate crimes language could be taken out of the bill when House and Senate negotiators hammer out a final version of it in conference.
But if they take out the provision, they would be thwarting the will of the majority of the House members, warned Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
Lieberman said the vote was the “strongest possible signal” the House could send to show their support for the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes.
The Senate passed the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act in June.
It adds crimes based on the victim’s gender, sexual orientation and disability to existing hate crimes laws. That provision is included in a defense authorization bill that House and Senate negotiators are discussing.
Many Jewish groups support national hate crimes legislation and cite recent hate crimes targeted at Jews, such as a white supremacist’s shooting rampage last July in Illinois and the shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and the subsequent fatal shooting of a Filipino American mail carrier.
Some congressional Republicans oppose hate crimes legislation in part because they don’t want to create special classes of victims. There is also concern that the federal government might overstep its bounds and interfere with state and local officials in their investigations of hate crimes.
Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) said during the House floor debate that he would not support the motion because he believes a federal hate crimes law is neither constitutional nor necessary.
Shepherding the vote through the House, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said it is “unrefuted” that many hate crimes are not prosecuted.
Earlier in the day at a White House event in support of hate crimes legislation, President Clinton called on Congress to “do the right thing” and at least make sure that “no one in our country is violated simply because of who they are.” The administration has consistently backed a national hate crimes law.
Clinton also announced a new report that shows hate crimes are underreported and thousands of law enforcement agencies may have encountered hate crimes that were not reported to the FBI.
The president directed the Department of Justice to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to develop a plan within 120 days to improve hate crimes reporting.