Conservatives and White House oppose hate crime bill
The AP reported today that:
WASHINGTON - The White House issued a veto threat Thursday against legislation that would expand federal hate crime law to include attacks motivated by the victims' gender or sexual orientation.
The hate crimes bill, with strong Democratic backing, is expected to pass the House Thursday. Similar legislation is moving through the Senate.
But the legislation, which also would increase the penalties for bias-based violence, has met outspoken resistance from conservative groups and their Republican allies in Congress, who warn that it undermines freedom of speech, religious expression and equal protection under the law.
The White House, in a statement, said state and local criminal laws already provide penalties for the crimes defined by the bill and "there has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement."
It also questioned the constitutionality of federalizing the acts of violence barred by the bill and said that if it reaches the president's desk "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
The White House also noted that the bill would leave out other classes such as the elderly, members of the military or police officers.
Hate crimes under current federal law apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national original. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction only if the victim is engaged in a specific federally protected activity such as enrolling in school, voting or traveling between states.
The House bill would extend the hate crimes category to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
That would make it easier for federal authorities to become involved in hate crimes, although
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., said in a statement that state and local authorities will continue to prosecute the overwhelming majority of such cases.
"To ensure federal restraint, the bill requires the attorney general or another high-ranking Justice Department official to approve any prosecutions undertaken pursuant to this measure," he said. He also stressed that it does not impinge on public speech, religious expression or writing.
Those using guns to commit crimes defined under the bill would face prison terms of up to 10 years. Crimes involving kidnapping or sexual assault or resulting in death could bring life terms.
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