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Jewish Groups Still Hope to Sneak in Hate Crimes Law, One Way or Another

Despite a major setback, Jewish groups say they’re optimistic they can find another way to get hate crimes legislation passed before Congress adjourns for this term.

A hate crimes measure was stripped out of congressional legislation last week, greatly hurting the chances of a national hate crimes law passing this year.

The latest turn of events is “an unwelcome but not unexpected development,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL hopes to get the hate crimes legislation attached to one of the 11 still-unfinished appropriations bills that will have to be worked out before Congress adjourns sometime this month.

The bills will ultimately be negotiated between the White House and Congress. Jewish groups hope the president will continue to insist that a hate crimes provision be included in this year’s legislation.

Even though time is running out on the legislative calendar, Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said “experience teaches us that where there is a political will, there is a procedural way.”

After strong bipartisan support from both houses of Congress during the past few months, the hate crimes provision was nevertheless dropped from a defense bill last Thursday, even though the House of Representatives voted just a few weeks ago to instruct the bill negotiators to keep the provision.

The vote to strip the provision “thwarts the will of the substantial bipartisan congressional majorities that have voted in support” of hate crimes legislation, said ADL Chairman Howard Berkowitz and Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director.

The Senate had voted 57-42 to add the hate crimes language to the defense bill last spring. The House voted 232- 192 on Sept. 13 to instruct its conferees on the bill to support the Senate proposal, but the resolution was not binding. The controversial legislation would authorize federal prosecution of crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, or disability, expanding the current laws that protect victims of crimes motivated by race, color, religion or ethnicity. State and local law enforcement would still have primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

Republicans argue that such a federal law would designate some groups of crimes and its victims as more important than others. The Republican leadership also is under pressure from conservative groups to stop the bill because it would afford protections to gay and lesbian victims.

President Clinton said the Republican leadership made a “serious mistake” by stripping the hate crimes legislation from the defense authorization bill.

“I will continue to fight the Republican leadership in Congress to make sure this important work gets done this year,” Clinton said in a statement.

Clinton has said repeatedly that passing hate crimes legislation is one of his top priorities.

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