Expanding 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)/Motion to recommit with instructions to send the bill back to committee to include crimes against the elderly and armed forces personnel in the definition of hate crimes
house Roll Call 298 May 03, 2007
This vote represented a Republican attempt to force an amendment to hate-crimes legislation to include crimes committed against an individual because of his or her gender, sexual orientation or disability. The amendment would have included crimes against the elderly and armed forces personnel in the definition of hate crimes, but Democrats charged that it was a thinly veiled attempt to kill the legislation.
Republicans motioned to send (or recommit) the bill to the Judiciary Committee with instructions to add senior citizens and current and former members of the U.S. military to the criteria of victims protected under the legislation. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) made the motion, arguing that senior citizens and veterans deserved special protection, as well.
"If Congress rejects this motion to recommit, who will explain to the thousands of victims who are senior citizens or military victims that their injuries are less important than those of others protected under the hate crimes law?" Smith asked. "Are we really prepared to tell seniors and our men and women in uniform across our country that crimes committed against victims because of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability are, as a rule, more worthy of punishment than those committed against seniors and military personnel?"
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) pointed out that the motion provided for the bill to be reported back to the House "promptly" rather than "forthwith," the customary language, insinuating that Republicans intended to send the legislation back to committee indefinitely and thus prevent its passage. The Speaker Pro Tempore, a designee of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who rules on parliamentary matters, confirmed Conyers' suspicion on the impact of the language in the motion.
Conyers also pointed out that the Republican amendment was redundant with existing federal law.
"The categories of individuals included in the amendment, seniors and members of the armed services, are entitled to protection under the law, and in point of fact they have protection under the law at both federal and state levels," Conyers said.
Nonetheless, Conyers asked unanimous consent to amend the bill to add those two categories, but Smith objected. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Smith's refusal "reeks with the stench of cynicism."
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 don't think that crimes against homosexuals or other "special classes" of people should be treated differently than a crime committed against anyone else.
Democrats said Republicans were simply standing in the way of civil rights.
On a party-line vote, the House rejected the motion to recommit. Nine Democrats joined all but 11 Republicans in voting to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, but the "nays" prevailed. Thus, by a vote of 189 to 227, the House defeated a Republican motion to force an amendment to hate crimes legislation that would have included crimes against the elderly and armed services personnel in the federal definition of hate crimes and sent the legislation back to committee indefinitely. With the last-ditch Republican effort to alter and delay the legislation dispensed with, a bill that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes perpetrated based on gender, sexual orientation or disability moved towards a final up-or-down vote.
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