House Republicans have objected to a Senate initiative to strengthen and expand the federal hate crimes law, probably dooming prospects for its passage this year as part of the 2005 defense authorization bill.
"It's not going to go anywhere," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said after he presented House Judiciary Committee Democrats' case for the Senate proposal Tuesday during an informal session of the House-Senate conference that will write the final version of the defense bill.
The proposal, approved by the Senate in June, would add offenses based on sexual orientation, gender and disabilities to a civil-rights-era law that allows federal prosecution of crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.
It would also eliminate a restriction permitting federal prosecutions only for cases where victims were engaged in federally protected activities, such as voting, and provide federal assistance for state and local authorities in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
During the closed-door session, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), representing the committee's GOP majority, said Republicans opposed inclusion of the hate crimes provision in the defense bill, arguing in part that it improperly punishes thought rather than action, according to Nadler and others.
The House Republican leadership is also opposed to inclusion of the provision in the defense bill, said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
The provisions were attached to the defense bill because it was regarded as one of the few "must pass" measures still available for action this year and because the Senate GOP leadership had not scheduled separate action on the hate crimes measure.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who will serve as chairman of House-Senate conferees on the defense bill, joined most Senate Democrats and many Republicans in voting to add the hate crimes provision to the defense measure in June and said at the time that he would work to keep it from being dropped in negotiations with the House.
Warner said he continues to support the hate crimes measure and will try to reconcile differences between the two chambers over the issue. But, he added, he will not let a deadlock over an issue that is not directly related to national defense stand in the way of final action on the military authorization measure.
Similar proposals, prompted by assaults on gays and African Americans, were approved by the Senate in 2000, but they were scuttled both times by House Republicans in final negotiations on the measures.
While the House has not approved the legislation, it voted in 2000 to instruct its conferees to go along with the hate crimes provision in the Senate bill -- a vote ignored by the House GOP conferees.
The House has not yet officially appoint conferees for the defense bill, a move that some Democrats say is intended to fend off another move to instruct its negotiators to accept the Senate proposal.