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Republicans Strip Hate Crime Protections from Defense Bill

By Helen Dewar

Republicans on Thursday stripped language expanding federal hate crimes laws from the defense authorization bill for this year, dimming and possibly dooming prospects for enactment of the measure before Congress adjourns.

The provisions would extend civil rights-era federal protections to violent crimes involving gender, sexual orientation and disability and make it easier for the federal government to intervene in such cases.

After GOP leaders balked at bringing up the bill on its own, the Senate -- by an unexpectedly strong vote of 57 to 42 -- added the hate-crimes language to the defense bill last spring. Later, the House voted 232 to 192 to instruct its conferees on the defense bill to go along with the Senate proposal. Both were influenced in part by several high-profile cases involving bigotry in the commission of crimes.

President Clinton has made hate crimes protections a high priority for the last year of his administration, pushing Congress to keep the language in the defense bill.

But House negotiators on the defense measure rejected the Senate provisions, and Senate negotiators, on the recommendation of Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) agreed Thursday on a largely party-line vote of 11 to 9 to not take the issue back to the full conference committee for another vote.

Warner earlier had indicated he was reassessing his position on the hate-crimes issue after September’s fatal attack at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va. But Thursday he said the defense bill would have been faced with filibusters and “perhaps other impediments” if the hate-crimes language had remained in the legislation.

Democrats vowed to continue pushing for passage of the hate-crimes protections, possibly as part of a huge catchall bill at the end of the session. “If the national outcry is loud enough, we still have a chance to act on this issue in the remaining days of this Congress,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass).