President Clinton marked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday yesterday by urging Congress to step up civil rights enforcement and expand the federal hate crimes law to protect gays, women and the disabled.
"There are still too many barriers and examples of too many Americans facing discrimination in their daily lives," even though the country is doing better in treating all citizens equally, the president said in his weekly radio address.
Speaking on King's 71st birthday and two days before the nation's official celebration, Clinton renewed a commitment to add acts of hatred motivated by sexual orientation, gender and disability to the list of hate crimes already covered, acts sparked by prejudice based on race, religion, color or national origin.
A move to expand the law died last year because of opposition from Republicans in Congress.
"Such hate crimes leave deep scars not just on the victims but on our larger community, for they take aim at others for who they are, and when they do they take aim at America," Clinton said.
Clinton said that in his fiscal 2001 budget he wants "the largest-ever investment to enforce our civil rights laws." He plans to seek $695 million, a 13 percent increase over last year.
The proposals were criticized by the GOP's highest-ranking black lawmaker in the House, Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), chairman of the Republican Conference.
Watts called Clinton's hate crimes proposal an effort to "separate and divide," to tell crime victims that "some lives are more important than others."
Money for enforcing civil rights laws should go to encourage prosperity in struggling minority communities "instead of creating a larger Washington bureaucracy," Watts said.
Under Clinton's proposal, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department would receive $98 million, a 20 percent increase over last year and 86 percent above spending levels in the first year of the Clinton administration.
"The proposed funding will permit the Justice Department to expand significantly investigations and prosecutions of criminal civil rights cases--including hate crimes and police misconduct--as well as fair housing and lending cases," the White House said in a statement.
Clinton said he also will seek $322 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 14 percent more than last year.
CAPTION: President Clinton wants 13% rise in civil rights enforcement spending.