By Lisa Keen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a telephone press conference Thursday, following passage in the U.S. House of a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law, Rep. Tammy Baldwin said it would be an “extremely tall order” to override a threatened veto by President Bush.
The House passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a vote of 237 to 180 May 3, following a debate that was marked by unusually harsh claims by opponents. Many claimed the bill was intended to muzzle people who claim their hatred of gay people is based on religious beliefs. And many right-wing groups have been calling on President Bush to veto the measure once it passes the Senate and any conference committee votes.
Baldwin said she takes some comfort in the fact that President Bush has not made any direct threats to veto the bill, as he did on the recent funding bill for the war in Iraq and the embryonic stem cell research bill. Instead, the administration -through the Office of Management and Budget–issued a statement Thursday, calling the hate crimes amendment legislation “unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.”
Concerned Women for America dubbed the statement a “pledge” to veto the bill.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which Baldwin credited with doing key lobby and public education on the measure, said he is hopeful President Bush will agree to meet with HRC Board member Judy Shepard – mother of hate crimes victim Matthew Shepard – and others before deciding what action to take.
Solmonese called the veto threat a “clear indication of the right-wing’s hold over” President Bush and noted that opponents were able to “flood” Capitol Hill offices with calls against the measure this week.
Congress passed a Hate Crimes Statistics Bill in 1990 to add sexual orientation to the list of crimes which the Federal Bureau of Investigation could collect statistics about, but it has resisted efforts to penalize such crimes against people because of sexual orientation or gender identity with stiffer penalties.
The bill seeks to amend the federal code to prohibit willfully causing bodily injury to any person “because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of such person.” It would also give the Justice Department authority to investigate and help prosecute hate crimes targeted at LGBT people and would add gender and gender identity to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
Baldwin, who is openly gay, called passage of the bill “an extraordinary and historic milestone in our history.”
A Washington tax watchdog group estimates the cost of the proposed legislation at 18-cents per family.
The Senate version of the bill was introduced April 12 by U.S. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).