What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Gay Rights : H. Res. 364, providing for the consideration of legislation to expand federal hate-crimes law to include the use or threat of force against individuals because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability (H.R. 1592)/On adoption of the rule
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H. Res. 364, providing for the consideration of legislation to expand federal hate-crimes law to include the use or threat of force against individuals because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability (H.R. 1592)/On adoption of the rule
house Roll Call 297     May 03, 2007
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This was the final vote on the rules for debate for a bill to expand the reach of federal hate-crimes legislation to include crimes committed against an individual because of his or her gender, sexual orientation or disability.

The resolution outlined the rules for debate for the legislation, including how much floor time would be granted to each side and which amendments would be considered in order. The resolution is thus commonly known as the rules package.

Current federal hate-crimes law covers the use or threat of force against a person based on race, color, religion or national origin that interferes with the victim's ability to engage in six specific "federally protected" activities. This bill would remove from the definition interference with the victim's ability to engage in federally protected activities, effectively allowing federal law enforcement broader authority to prosecute hate crimes. The legislation would also authorize $5 million annually for grants for local law enforcement officials to help them investigate and prosecute hate crimes and stiffen the penalties for those convicted of such crimes.

Republicans opposed the rules package because of their opposition to the underlying bill as well as in protest of the so-called "closed rule" proposed by the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee. Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor.

Republicans philosophically opposed the legislation because they believe a crime is a crime and that the bill would essentially turn the federal government into the "thought police." They said the legislation would unfairly create a special category of crimes, unjustly making one crime more worthy of punishment than another simply by the somewhat murky notion of the personal beliefs of the perpetrator. Republicans were irritated that the Rules Committee prevented all 18 amendments presented from being offered on the House floor for consideration by the full chamber.

"Mr. Speaker, I must oppose this closed rule, which not only gags the minority party, but gags all Members of the House, who will be denied the right to offer improvements to this legislation," Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said. "I urge my colleagues to oppose the gag order rule and the underlying bill that creates special categories of citizens and ends equality under the law."

Democrats said Republicans were simply standing in the way of civil rights.

"We are talking about life and death issues here," said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.). "And, unfortunately, I think it is clear that there are some on the other side of the aisle who oppose the expansion of civil rights protections for threatened groups living in the United States, and I believe they are flat wrong. But this gives the Members, every Member of the House, the opportunity to vote up or down on whether or not they believe that we should expand protections. I think this is an appropriate rule, and I strongly support the underlying bill."

All Republicans present voted against the rules package. All but nine Democrats voted for it. On an almost party-line vote of 213 to 199, the House approved the rules for consideration for legislation that would expand the definition of hate crimes to included crimes perpetrated based on gender, sexual orientation or disability, thus paving the way to bring the bill for consideration on the House floor.

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