Political Notebook

Outlook improves for hate crimes bill

July 16, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Legislation to extend federal hate crimes protections to gays and the disabled reached the Senate floor yesterday with the best prospects in years to become law.

The measure, which also makes it easier for federal prosecutors to get involved in hate crimes cases, passed the House in a similar version in April and enjoys solid support in the Senate.

And for the first time since Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts first introduced the bill in 1997, pro-bill Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

President Obama, unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, backs the legislation. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged Congress to act so the government can prosecute cases of violence based on gender and sexual orientation.

But passage is not certain. Most Republicans oppose the legislation, saying it infringes on states’ rights or could lead to the criminalization of religious expressions of opposition to homosexuality.

The bill was offered as an amendment to a $680 billion bill approving defense programs, a move that Senator John McCain of Arizona, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said was “highly inappropriate.’’

Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has called for a vote, requiring 60 supporters, to move forward on the hate crimes measure. That vote could come as early as today, but timing for a final vote on the amendment was uncertain.

Current hate crimes law applies to acts of violence motivated by prejudice against a person’s race, color, national origin, or religion. That would expand under the legislation to include crimes targeting people because of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was targeted because he was gay in a fatal attack in 1998.


Kerry hit backs at Palin on climate change stance
Senator John F. Kerry is taking it upon himself to be Democrats’ truth-squad leader against Sarah Palin. After the soon-to-be-ex Alaska governor assailed President Obama’s climate change plan as a job killer in an opinion piece Tuesday, Kerry hit back with a piece of his own on the Huffington Post website.

Yesterday, Kerry followed up with another piece on Daily Kos, another liberal website.

“Coming up in the fall, the US Senate is going to be debating what I think is the most important legislation we’ve considered in a long, long time to tackle global climate change which imperils everything from our economy to our national security,’’ he writes.

“But Governor Sarah Palin and a whole host of others are now leading the effort to ignore the costs of doing nothing and distort the costs of doing something. It’s long overdue for the truth to fight back.’’

He then proceeds to try to debunk the points Palin made, one by one. “Palin’s column ignored the entire problem and didn’t even get right the things it did cover,’’ says the Massachusetts Democrat, who has made global warming a key issue as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee pointed yesterday to an answer that Palin gave during the vice presidential debate last October to accuse her of flip-flopping on a key climate change issue.

Asked whether she supports capping carbon emissions, Palin replied: “I do. I do.’’